By Joanna Calder
It was a sight never before seen on the ice of the Air Canada Centre (ACC) in Toronto.
The RCAF received new Colours – unique, consecrated military flags – in Toronto on September 1, 2017. At the same time their former Colours, which were presented in 1982 and reflected the Air Force’s previous identity as Air Command, were retired.
On February 10, 2018, in a ceremony held immediately before a hockey match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, the Royal Canadian Air Force entrusted their retired Colours to the guardianship of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The brief ceremony took place during a Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night at the ACC.
Two pipers from the RCAF Pipes and Drums, Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Kenneth J. MacKenzie and Major Allan J. MacKenzie (who are brothers), preceded Lieutenant-General Mike Hood, commander of the RCAF, and Chief Warrant Officer Gérard Poitras, RCAF command chief warrant officer, onto the ice. They were followed by Maple Leafs’ alumni Darryl Sittler and Darcy Tucker, and then a Colours party from 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron, carrying the retired Colours.
Captain Louis Martel, Captain Jennifer Finateri, Warrant Officier Chris Longman, Sergeant Robyn Arnold and Sergeant Francisco Moises made up the Colour party.
To the applause and cheers of the crowd in the Air Canada Centre and as the members of the Colour party saluted with rifles or drawn swords, Chief Warrant Officer Poitras passed the Queen’s Colour to Mr. Sittler, and Lieutenant-General Hood passed the Air Command Colour to Mr. Tucker.
In late February, the retired Colours will be “laid up”, that is to say put on display, near Gate 6 of the Air Canada Centre, where they will be visible to passers-by as well as those attending hockey games at the centre.
An agreement has been put in place between the Maple Leafs and the RCAF governing the hockey team’s guardianship of the retired Air Command Colours. The agreement and the location where the Colours will be laid up meet the regulations set out in the Canadian Armed Forces Publication The Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces, which states, in part, that Colours “remain Crown property in perpetuity, and are controlled by the Department of National Defence on behalf of the Canadian government. The Colours are memorials to the brave deeds and sacrifices of the units and individuals who serve under them. If deposited or laid up, they are the responsibility of the custodian and must remain accessible to the public. . . . Custodians shall ensure that laid-up and deposited Colours are kept on display to the general public. They may not be stored or displayed in unaccessible areas . . . . Under no circumstances are Colours or portions of Colours allowed to pass into the possession of private individuals. If the custodian can no longer preserve them, they must be returned.”
The RCAF has a long and proud relationship with the city of Toronto. Canadian military aviation began in Toronto 101 years ago when the Royal Flying Corps Canada was established in Toronto and the surrounding area to recruit and train Canadian aircrew for service overseas during the First World War.
“Our relationship with the Toronto Maple Leafs is even more personal. Wing Commander William George Barker, a First World War Ace and Canada’s most highly decorated war hero, was appointed as president of the Maple Leafs’ hockey club in 1927 by its manager, Constantine Falkland Cary (Conn) Smythe who was seconded from the Army to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 to fly as an observer,” said Lieutenant-General Hood before the transfer ceremony. “Given this unique history, the ACC is a fitting location for our retired Colours and the Maple Leafs are well-suited to be their guardian.”
Perhaps inspired by the RCAF Colours, the Maple Leafs won the game 6-3 over the Ottawa Senators.