In a tribute to the airmen and women who built, trained and remained at the Pat Bay Aerodrome during the Second World War, a Victoria artist will create a new memorial.
Sculptor Illarion Gallant recently joined historians and employees of the Victoria Airport Authority in unveiling plans for a public art piece called Lost Airmen of the Empire.
Sited atop Hospital Hill along Mills Road in North Saanich, the artwork will feature large, metal feathers emblazoned with 177 names of aircrew and others who trained at the wartime airbase — which later became the Victoria International Airport.
“For me, it’s a lovely opportunity to make sure others never forget,” said Gallant.
The sculpture will include around 1,000 bricks saved from a military administration building, dating from the war era, that was torn down last year. They will be built into a dais in the park and will form a frame around a planned memorial capsule.
That capsule, Gallant, added, will contain letters written to veterans — deceased or living — collected from people who submit them to the Victoria Airport Authority. Letters can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The VAA commissioned Gallant to create the sculpture after putting a call out to area artists.
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the region and along the Flight Path,” said VAA CAO Geoff Dickson, referring to the airport’s multi-use path around the facility.
He noted that the airbase, built in 1939, saw more than 10,000 people work there during the Second World War.
One of the families who came to the Saanich Peninsula at that time, was headed by George du Temple — who eventually purchased the Ardmore Golf Course in North Saanich. His son, Wallace du Temple spoke at the unveiling event April 28, describing the airport as it was in the early 1940s.
“Pat Bay was an important training centre,” he said. “This monument will be in memory of men and women who served.”
Saanich Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May said the sculpture will mark the service and sacrifice of so many. She also credited the hard work of many people in seeing something be saved out of the demolition of the airport building.
The VAA worked with North Saanich and others to form a Hospital Hill committee, tasked with coming up with ideas to commemorate the site, the people, and the buildings that made up the Pat Bay air base. Gallant added since the area is popular for plane spotting, the design will not impede the activity. The sculptures will also be designed to rust, to ensure the metal pieces do not give off any glare around the active runways.
Construction of the Lost Airmen of the Empire is expected to begin this spring and be complete by the fall.