Sunday 1 July 2012

"Strength in Family"

"You never know how strong you are ...until being strong is the only choice you have."

I recently took a few days off from work and hopped in the car with my mom, dad, and 11 year old niece for a quick summer roadtrip from Vancouver to Alberta. The journey was full of fun and, pun intended, certainly a trip down memory lane. But I am not sure that I quite expected to go on a trip that would lead me so far from home and yet bring me so close. Confused? Let me explain.

The purpose of the trip was for my great grandfather, Andrew David Bower whom neither my father nor I ever met. He was a special man, and I really didn't realize quite how special until a weekend this past June.

Andrew Bower was the first warden in Canada to die in the line of duty. On June 6, 1925 he was thrown from his horse in Waterton Lakes National Park and later succumbed to his injuries. The runour is that poachers were somehow involved but nothing was ever proven. He died at the age of 39, leaving a pregnant widow and four children. But he wasn't just a warden. He had also been a member of the North West Mounted Police and later an enlisted soldier who fought on the front lines of the Great War in France. He was wounded in his left arm and returned home where doctors wanted to amputate. He refused.

Andrew was a man who didn't shy away from challenges in his life. He fought for his country and what he believed to be right. In short, he seemed to do a lot more living in his short life than many of us. Obviously, he also faced great adversity. The Canadian government agreed that Andrew Bower earned the right to be honoured so that's what they did - they honoured him on June 15, 2012 by laying a plaque in his name across from the location where he was injured.

The ceremony honouring my great grandfather was impressive and emotional. There were representatives of the RCMP, Canadian veterans, and Parks Canada Wardens, and about 40 Bower family members. My great aunt, Joyce Setters was also there. She  is Andrew's only living child - the child he never met. One of Andrew's grandchildren, who had helped organize the event, Jamie, spoke about Andrew - his life and his legacy. The part that touched me in particular was when he spoke about Andrew's wife, Mary Bower. What strength my great grandmother must have had to raise a family of five without her husband. Thinking about the difficult times she surely faced and lived through touched me deeply. A cousin who knew her told me that she was a sweet lady but was tough as steel when she needed to be. Not surprising, really.

The weekend was an opportunity to reflect on my family history and my place within it. I found great comfort in the strength and tenacity of my great grandmother and the character of my great grandfather. But it was also a time to connect with my family whom I don't see often - my cousins and the next generation in Alberta, to build on those relationships and seek comfort in my family. We are so alike, despite having grown up in different provinces. It's wonderful for me to know that, although far away in miles, they will always be there for me in my dark times.

This trip was a reminder to me that we all face adversity in life but if we draw on that secret reserve of inner strength (and I know in my heart that we all have it!) we will make it through, even stronger than we were before. My great grandmother faced life as a mother and young widow. She survived and I can survive mental illness.

So how far did that trip take me? From the lush coastal mountains, through the glorious Canadian Rockies, to the rolling foothills of Alberta. And about 80 years back through family history and back. Quite a trip, indeed!

KB xo

P.S. This is dedicated with love and respect to Andrew and Mary Bower.

Here's a link to the Calgary Herald story about Andrew Bower:

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