BURNSIDE: A simple conversation between friends has led to the Canada Gate finding a way to get to Europe—at no cost.

VSI Worldwide owner Hillary Chouinard was attending a concert with friend Corrine MacLellan, who is on the Board of Governors for the Army Museum and involved in both the Canada Gate and The Last Steps project.

Hillary Chouinard, owner of VSI Worldwide, said she is thrilled to have her company involved in the shipping of the Canada Gate to Passchendale in Belgium. The announcement was made at Chouinard’s company’s office in Burnside on Oct. 2. (Healey photo)

“She mentioned in passing this project (Canada Gate), and they had no idea how they were going to get it to Europe,” said Chouinard as people mingled about following the announcement inside the warehouse on Borden Avenue in the Burnside Park. “She wondered if I had any ideas or if I could make any suggestions. Off the cuff, I suggested we could put it in a container with a few vehicles no problem.”

That was nice of Chouinard, who stepped up with no information on the Canada Gate at her fingertips.

“I made the suggestion without knowing what it was, how big it was, any scope of the project,” said Chouinard, a Waverley resident. “Over the next couple of weeks, I found out how big it was, how elaborate of a design it was, and the amount of logistical support required both here and overseas to get it from the port through customs to Flanders where it will be erected.

“We took the project on and we’re donating all the time and costs involved for logistics and transportation for here and in Europe.”

Chouinard will also be attending the dedication ceremony of the Canada Gate in Belgium, where it will pay tribute to Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele a century ago.

Ken Hynes with the Army Museum speaks during the Canada Gate announcement at VSI Worldwide in Burnside on Oct. 2. (Healey photo)

Ken Hynes, curator of the Halifax-based Army Museum, said Canadian soldiers fought like hell for Canada nad for each other.

“The last 700 metres, from Crest farm to the final capture of Passchendaele, took them 10 long, terrifying days,” he told the crowd of about 35 people at the ceremonial send-off inside the VSI warehouse on Oct. 2.

The one-tonne gate, which is made of steel, will be installed in the days leading up to events next month (November) that mark the culmination of the 100-day battles in what is the Canadian military’s bloodiest fight in their history. Nancy Keating is the artists who designed the Canada Gate, which was constructed by Avon Valley Metalworks. She also created The Last Steps on the Halifax Waterfront.

Chouinard said her involvement was strictly doing a favour for a friend—at the beginning.

“It didn’t start out being anything special to me,” she said. “It was just helping out a friend.

“What I subsequently learned was that my great grandfather fought at Passchendale and survive; also at Vimy, and that his brother, my great uncle passed away at Vimy and is buried there. It’s given a lot of lessons on my family history.”

Hillary Chouinard stands on the Canada Gate. (Healey photo)

When Chouinard initially said yes to helping out, she was doing it as a tribute for her late father-in-law who fought and survived World War II.

“This was the wrong war, but I still thought it would have meaning for my family,” she said. “It went from being a tribute to my father-in-law to my great grandfather and great uncle as to why I’m doing it.”

She said she is grateful that her business is able to allow her to help out this way.

“It’s something different,” said Chouinard. “It’s all about giving back. This just feels good to be able to do.

“It’s nice to be able to do it and be in a position that my business can afford to do this.”

Canada Gate, which stands about four metres high, includes metal poppies at the base of each of the two arches. It’s large enough that you can easily walk through it.

“This is not a monument, but a moment in time re-imagined,” said Keating to the crowd. “It’s a portal from the past, where we can retrace the steps — not only of those who did not or could not return to Canada, but also of those who did return, their lives forever changed.”

And thanks to Chouinard, their sacrifices won’t soon be forgotten.

A group shot of the dignitaries standing next to the Canada Gate after the announcement at VSI Worldwide in Burnside. (Healey photo)