A new meaning for wings…
They call it ‘The Wing.’ RCAF 441 Huronia Wing Inc. It’s a modest building out on Highway 90 with
a T33 jet (introduced in the last year of World War Two) balancing on a tall tower. The aircraft was decommissioned when Borden’s air base closed. It was delivered down the highway and put in place by helicopter.
Inside The Wing are people, of course, coupled with memories of yesterday and commitment for tomorrow. With 139 members, the Royal Canadian Air Force unit honours the past, with a shared history that is centred around the second World War.
Gord Steane is President; his wife Jean is Membership Chair. They rely heavily on the memories of Les Ball, Treasurer, and Robert Coxon, Vice President as they answer my eager questions.
What happens in here? I look around the room on Wednesday night, where I’ve been invited to enjoy a pot luck dinner in the company of like minded people. It’s their annual evening of generosity (my words, not theirs) and they’ve invited a few of us to receive funds.
Roy Randell, Salvation Army Mission Major, and the Food Bank are both there. I’m there because of my work with Christmas Cheer. Each of us receives a cheque for $1000. We each are grateful, and eager to explain where this money will go…
The amazing thing is that this modest group of seniors is absolutely diligent in living out the aims and objectives of The Wing.
Commitment to youth is one. They carry that out with monthly donations to the Air Cadet Squadron 102. They support Barrie Minor Hockey, Minor Soccer, Minor Baseball, Boy Scouts.
Honour military and civil aviation. They carry that out with an annual scholarship to the Georgian College Aviation Program.
Participate in supportive and charitable community projects. They carry that out with their Christmas season gifts as well as support to Royal Victoria Hospital ($25,000 commitment this year), and the Springwater Fire Department.
Support RCAF benefits fund and veterans organizations. They visit and care for RCAF families; they bring Sunnybrook vets up to their unit for a day’s outing and fellowship. They support the Kempenfelt Pipes and Drums.
This is a lot of support… $50,000 a year, in fact… for a small group of people to make. They raise money in many labour-intensive ways. And they save money in equal measure. For instance, there are no janitorial services at The Wing. The members handle all cleaning duties, toilets and garbage included.
They’re united in their goal to pay off this spring a $100,000 mortgage, taken out a few years ago to add on to the building. Most members turn out regularly to volunteer man hours of construction, painting, electrical etc. They work together once they agree on a common goal.
These are the men and women of World War Two. They will be joined by veterans from the Afghanistan conflict. Their stories are being re-lived again and again in world wide conflict.
But for now, money is raised and given away, And money is raised to pay the utilities re-roof the building, buy new tables and chairs, enhance the microphone system, pay the taxes, and on and on.
They raise money by holding a $6 dinner on Friday nights (with real peeled potatoes and china plates). With 100 capacity, they are usually sold out. They work at bingo and raise funds there. They rent out their auditorium, kitchen, bar and meeting areas for a variety of public events. They sell nevada tickets. They sell draw tickets, they have lotteries, they save what they raise and they practice a frugal approach.
Gord’s quick to tell the story of meeting his bride, Jean. They were both part of the Berlin airlift. Jean was in the British WAF and was stationed in Berlin right at the end of the war. Gord met her in Berlin and they were married there in 1947.
The horrible war between Germany and Britain and later the Allied Forces, pitted societies against each other. Jean recalls that after the war, when she was working on the airlift, she got to know a German girl in the next office. Her husband flew for the German Luftwaffe and was killed during the war. This girl was a young widow with a daughter of her own. “I liked her. She was a nice person,” recalls Jean, caught in the dichotomy of war and after-war.
The Wing still has a few members who flew during World War Two. Bob Middlemiss was a spitfire pilot during the 1939-1945 horror and is still today an honorary colonel for the RCAF.
As as an interesting twist of fate, today one of the regular tenants at The Wing, a group which regularly rents the auditorium for its meetings is the German Club.
War is War. The Wing is now onto Peace. And from those wings, the wings of flight, the wings of care, and the wings of community commitment comes goodness and generosity.
A small group of people, with big hearts. Definitely the wind beneath the wings of this community.