For nearly a century, a statue representing a World War I Canadian Army soldier — affectionately known as “Tommy” — has famously stood at attention and largely undisturbed in Sarnia, Ontario’s Veterans Park. But after someone vandalized the statue last year, IBEW members from this city on Lake Huron’s southern shore took charge of the effort to protect the beloved sculpture from future damage.
“When we first heard about the vandalism, the IBEW decided to lend a hand to improve the lighting and install new cameras,” said Frank Harris, business manager of Sarnia Local 530.
Added to the memorial a year after it was dedicated in 1921, Tommy stands atop a monument that honors the city’s military veterans who died during World Wars I and II and in conflicts in Korea and Afghanistan.
Last spring, an attendee at a Sarnia Historical Society gathering near the memorial noticed that the statue’s replica rifle, made of copper, had been stolen from Tommy’s left shoulder. Further inspection determined that someone had almost successfully removed the massive bolts that had held the statue in place atop the stone memorial for decades.
Word of the crime spread instantly throughout the region, and Sarnia-Lambton (County) Building and Construction Trades Council President John Swart polled his organization’s members, gauging their interest in volunteering to perform the work.
“We said, unanimously, that we should do it,” Harris said.
Working alongside their brothers and sisters from Sarnia Local 1802, who represent workers at the region’s Bluewater Power utility, Local 530 members and workers from the other building trades unions completed security upgrades at the memorial over several weeks last summer. The
Joint Electrical Promotional Plan, a partnership between the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario and the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario, donated $25,000 to also help pay for materials for the job.
“We installed nine new light poles, did all the trenching, all the new wiring, conduit, wire for the cameras, you name it,” Harris said.
At least a dozen active Local 530 members volunteered their days off to work at the memorial, often joined by members of the local’s retirees club.
“A lot of people here [at Bluewater] helped organize the project and worked hard to help make this happen,” said Local 1802 Business Manager Tyler Gray. “With the new lighting and cameras, the park should now be much safer and more secure.”
The IBEW members brought a combined wealth of experience to the project. Dozens of Sarnia’s chemical plants and oil refineries were built by Local 530 members, including one of Canada’s largest natural gas co-generation plants as well as one of the world’s biggest photovoltaic solar power generation facilities.
But this smaller and relatively simpler project was a personal one for Harris, because the name of his great uncle and namesake, Hugh Francis “Frank” Hegarty, is one of the many carved into the memorial.
Hegarty was a pilot during World War II. “His was one of the first planes shot down in the North Sea,” Harris said.
Hegarty had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and trained to be a pilot. Eventually, he was assigned to the 407th “Demon Squadron” and deployed to England’s North Sea Coast. In 1941, Hegarty and his crew became the first reported losses by the RCAF coastal command in Britain when their Hudson AN586 bomber failed to return from a raid on German positions in the Netherlands.
Since Hegarty’s family had no gravesite to visit, the Sarnia Veterans Memorial became an important place for them to gather and remember his sacrifice.
Over the summer, Tommy was gently removed and sent to Georgetown, Ontario, for storage while the security upgrades were made to the memorial’s site. A company in London, Ontario, performed a rendering of the original rifle and used a 3D printer to craft its copper replacement, along with special pins to make it harder for the gun to be stolen again.
In late October, IBEW members were well represented when the modernized memorial and its restored Tommy statue were rededicated, just in time for the city’s Remembrance Day commemoration on Nov. 11.
“This is a sacred space for families to gather and remember their loved ones who fought and died to protect what we Canadians have today,” First District International Vice President Tom Reid said later. “We’re all very grateful for the role our IBEW members played in providing better security and lighting for this important and necessary memorial.”