Salute a blast from the past

BILL LAYE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

If you're in the stands at Spruce Meadows tomorrow and Sunday when the soldiers point their guns in your general direction, don't worry -- they're only shooting blanks.

The Feu de Joie, which means a fire of joy, is meant as a ceremonial celebration of Canada's military history, its personnel, past and present -- and the families behind them, said Capt. Alastair McMurachy of the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians).

Tomorrow, 500 of those military families will be on hand along with a host of dignitaries, including Alberta Lt.-Gov. Norman Kwong and chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier, for the salute and the night's ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

During the military ceremony, the regiment's Hundred Man Guard will march on foot in two ranks along the sides of the International Ring and prepare to fire the volley.

"The command will be given and, at once, 100 soldiers will raise their weapons in the air ... so in a matter of three seconds each guy will fire systematically one after the other," McMurachy said, adding all spectators need to do is relax and enjoy the show.

"You should have seen it last year when they raised their weapons into the air, people started moving out of the top stands. They started to freak out slightly."

And while the regiment -- formed in 1900 by Donald Smith, the unit's namesake Lord Strathcona, for action in the Boer War -- left Calgary in the mid-1990s for a new base in Edmonton, the ties between the unit and the city remain as strong as ever.

Clad in their 1920s-era cavalry uniforms, the Strathcona Mounted Troop, which McMurachy currently commands, has been a fixture during Spruce Meadows' three decades of history.

"We love coming back to Calgary," said McMurachy.

The regiment, the only Canadian armoured unit to still have a volunteer troop on horseback, also had some of its newer equipment on display -- including an operational Leopard tank.

Both the horses and their wheeled successors at the Strathcona exhibit drew lots of attention from kids of all ages.

Nathan Dyer, 8, here with his family from Texas, thought seeing the insides of a retired Second World War-vintage Sherman tank was "cool," but wasn't quite sure he could live in such cramped quarters with four other crewmen.

"But I liked all the guns," Dyer said.

Along with the curiosity has come many expressions of thanks for the work Canada's military is doing in places such as Afghanistan, said McMurachy, who joined up in 1999.

"The support Calgarians give to a regiment that, unfortunately, had to leave 10 years ago, is unbelievable."


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