If there ever was a man to embody the reluctance to share feelings that stereotypes men, Bob Haldane is it.
But standing in a field of stone grave markings and manicured lawns, Haldane’s voice caught briefly before he turned away.
“It’s a gorgeous thing –” he began, describing the scene of thousands of flickering flames tinged red by their candle holders, lighting the graves of 2,500 service men and women who have died.
After a moment, he started again. “It just twinkles.”
For 12 years, Haldane, 73, has helped with the Candlelight Tribute, held annually at God’s Acre Veterans’ Cemetery in Esquimalt. His involvement began behind the smokescreen of the barbecue as he served hot dogs to the kids who came to pay their respects.
Four years ago, Veterans’ Affairs Canada handed over the reigns of the operation to the Royal Canadian Legion’s Esquimalt branch. It was then that Haldane accepted the chair’s position of the organizing committee.
Since then, and especially in the past two years, attendance at the solemn event has climbed. Haldane estimated the attendance at 550 in 2009, and it boomed to about 880 last year, which was themed on the Canadian Navy’s 100th anniversary.
A navy vet himself, Haldane spent 24 years as an engineering mechanic and said about 86 per cent of that time was spent at sea. He’s seen almost every country in the world, except Russia, which he regrets.
With more veterans of wars past being buried, it’s important for the younger generation to remember those who gave up their lives for our country’s freedom, Haldane said. That’s why the tribute’s organizing committee has students escort veterans on their march through the cemetery.
The Candlelight Tribute next Thursday (May 26) serves up pop, hot chocolate, cookies, cake and, of course, hot dogs. All those who attend can take lighted candles to the 2,500 grave markers and listen to songs by the Naden Band and to the Victoria Children’s Choir sing The Maple Leaf Forever. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes.
And the atmosphere is beautiful, Haldane added. “It just warms your heart to see people respond.”
Despite his restraint, Haldane’s connection to the picturesque God’s Acre is clear.
“When I’m done and I have my chips cashed in, I’m going right down there,” he said, pointing to the undulating lawn.
Tribute to veterans
Who: Everyone, all ages
When: Thursday, May 26 at 6:45 p.m. (arrive early)
Where: God’s Acre Veterans’ Cemetery, behind Gorge Vale Golf Course on Colville Road
How much? Free – candles and refreshments are provided