September 11 not only commemorated the lives of 2,993 people - including firefighters and emergency responders - that were lost at the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 after suicide attacks made by Al-Qaeda, but in the City of Thompson also served as a day to unveil a statue that pays tribute to firefighters and emergency responders in Northern Manitoba.
People from all over the province gathered at a Spirit Way site on Thompson Drive North on Sept. 11, including MP for the Churchill electoral district Niki Ashton; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Manitoba Dave Chomiak; Thompson Mayor Tim Johnston and various city councillors; representatives from Spirit Way, Vale Inco, Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Conservation; and firefighters and emergency responders from the City of Thompson and other Northern Communities, including Cross Lake, to see the unveiling of the statue.
A committee was formed three years ago, which included Peirce Roberts, a Manitoba Conservation officer, Dave Jensen, president of the Thompson Firefighters Association, Al Meston, who has served the Thompson Fire Department for over 25 years and others. The committee wanted to find a way to create a tribute to firefighters and emergency responders in the North, and decided that a statue would be a good way to raise awareness of the work that such individuals do every day.
"We wanted a tribute that was multi-jurisdictional, recognizing the contributions made by each of the groups, those being municipal firefighters and emergency responders from the various fire departments in Northern Manitoba, which would include airport fire departments, Manitoba Hydro fire departments and anyone else who fights fire," Roberts says. "Also it would include Vale Inco firefighters and mine rescue workers who do this both above and below the ground, and forest firefighters from Manitoba Conservation, including initial attack crews, fire rangers and emergency firefighters across the North and all other Manitoba staff that are involved in firefighting."
Keeping all firefighting groups in mind, the committee decided that the theme for the statue would be fighting fire from a mile below the ground to a mile above the ground. They commissioned an artist from North Pole Studios in Winnipeg who built the statue, which has turned out to be the only statue of its kind in North America.
Roberts says the committee did a lot of fundraising including asking for donations and applying to grants, holding raffles and 50/50 ticket draws, hosting an ice fishing derby and a fundraiser luncheon and selling fire tribute support badges. Bombardier Aerospace provided the parts and built the water bomber aircraft for the statue and also donated $5,000 towards the project. Vale Inco contributed $10,000 and Manitoba Conservation provided a grant of $25,000 to the project. After that, Manitoba Hydro provided a grant for $5,000 and the department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs provided $10,000. The committee's original goal was to raise $80,000, but have now raised about $115,000, with the surplus going towards maintenance and upkeep of the statue.
"We got nothing but support, help and inspiration along the way. There were also many, many volunteers throughout the journey that helped us so much with the raffles, the ice fishing derby and promoting the project," Roberts says. "And for the past six weeks there have been many people that volunteered towards preparing the site, building the patio and the base for the statue."
One community group that did a lot to help the committee out was Spirit Way. Volker Beckmann, project coordinator with Spirit Way, says that the tribute statue has now become point of interest number 16 on the Spirit Way trail, and says it's in a perfect spot to add to the city's tourist attractions.
"It overlooks the fire hall behind us, it overlooks the river where water bombers can land and our neighbouring communities of Split Lake and Nelson House, and it overlooks the stack for mine rescue, so it's a beautiful location for this tribute," he explains. "I think if you're a Thompsonite or a Northerner, you need to be proud of this statue, you need to be proud of Spirit Way, and you need to be proud of Thompson, Manitoba, because we have things here that no one else in the world has."
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Manitoba Dave Chomiak was in Thompson to meet with Mayor Tim Johnston to discuss Northern justice issues and was in attendance at the unveiling of the statue. He says that he feels the statue is fitting tribute to the people who give so much in the line of duty.
"Not many jobs ask you to sacrifice your life and limb in the service of others, and this monument is a testament to a word that we often overlook I think far too much in our society, and that is sacrifice," he explains. "When there's a problem outside of Manitoba, they don't ask us politicians or lawyers to come to help. When there's a major problem outside of Manitoba, the firefighters go out of province to help, and vice versa."
Chomiak adds that he feels that the tribute is not just something that Northern Manitobans can be proud of but something that all Manitobans should hold dear.
Mayor Tim Johnston took to the podium at the event to express his thanks to the committee who brought the tribute to fruition and Spirit Way for helping out along the way.
"I want to acknowledge that we are here out of respect to the efforts that those people have put into this monument, but more so out of respect for the efforts of our personnel in Northern Manitoba."
The City of Thompson incurred about $4,000 for the work city personnel did on the lay-by at the tribute site for two weeks, with additional costs above and beyond just the labour. Johnston went on to specifically thank Manitoba Conservation and Vale Inco and the fire fighters and emergency responders in the City of Thompson.
"One of the most proud things I have as the mayor is being able to look out and see all the faces that now take so much pride in our community," he enthuses. "Spirit Way isn't just about a monument. It's not just about a brick patio. It's about a sense of community pride in a city that people love."
The two-sided bronze statue stands at eight feet tall and showcases seven people as well as a water bomber and a helicopter with a water bucket, and is flanked by two flag poles that proudly display the Canadian flag in the sky above.