Monday, November 19, 2012

Ottawa Highlanders a fitting name for 2014 CFL team

Partially published in the Ottawa Citizen on November 26, 2012

Sports team names these days reflect a city’s culture and heritage more than ever before.  The relatively new Winnipeg Jets were named after the Winnipeg Air Force Base: 17 Wing.  The Ottawa Senators were named after Roman soldiers who also sat in that Empire’s Senate, homage to Ottawa being Canada’s capital and location of our Senate.

Now that the obstructive Friends of Landsdowne lawsuits have been beaten into the ground for the last time, it’s time for Ottawa to focus on drafting, creating, and hosting our new Canadian Football League team come 2014.

There is no better name which best celebrates Ottawa’s history, culture, and identity than the Ottawa Highlanders.

The current Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa traces its Ottawa roots back to 1866.  The 43rd Battalion of Infantry was on Parliament Hill for Canada’s official Confederation on July 1, 1867.  In 1870, the regiment defended Ottawa in the Fenian raids, mobilizing nine companies of soldiers in Ottawa, Prescott, and surrounding areas to secure Canada.  They would later quell the Riel separatist threat in western Canada in 1881.

The 43rd Battalion paraded at Landsdowne Park before moving to their current location of Cartier Square Drill Hall.  They maintained the stadium and assisted the players before and after games.  And the Drill Hall, too, is central to Ottawa’s history: it was originally a shelter used to dry the wood being driven down the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River, before being shipped further into Canada.  The log drivers’ motto then was “Advance!” which is carried by Ottawa’s regiment to this day: a reminder to continue to push forward, carry on, and advance.

During World War One, the then-titled 38th Ottawa Battalion earned battle honours for Canada which are still heralded today. Ottawa’s Battalion sustained over 2800 casualties defending Canada at Somme, Arras, Ypres, Vimy, Passchendale, Amiens, and Hindenburg Line, among others.

The Ottawans fortunate enough to return did so with 299 decorations for bravery: two Victoria Crosses, nine Distinguished Service Orders, 35 Military Crosses, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and many more.

In 1933, the regiment was named The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa and was honoured to be presented The King’s Colours and its Regimental Colours on Parliament Hill by His Majesty King George V.

By World War Two, the Camerons deployed 800 of Ottawa’s finest, bravest citizens to Europe.  In fact, the Cameron Highlanders were the only Ottawa-based unit to land at Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), and provided significant support to several Allied forces in the area.

One hundred sixty Ottawans laid down their lives in that war, and again returned home with numerous battle honours for their sacrifices.  These included Normandy Landing, Caen, The Orne, The Rhineland, Leer, and many more.

Ottawa’s Regiment has done our city a great service for over 140 years.  Returning from WWII, the Cameron Highlanders remained in constant support of local police and national authorities.  They served overseas protecting people in Cyprus, Croatia, Israel, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and the Congo.

In 1989, the Camerons were honoured to be named the best militia infantry unit in Canada.  It is also no wonder that the regiment comprised of some of Ottawa’s finest, most dedicated individuals was proclaimed Ottawa’s Regiment and given Freedom of the City in 1996 by then-Mayor Jim Watson.
The 1998 ice storm crippled cities and infrastructure with little notice.  When police, fire, and emergency responders were stuck, the Cameron Highlanders were some of the first boots on the ground, and they quickly stepped up to provide vital rescue and assistance efforts which saved lives and restored city services.

More recently, they continue to serve Ottawa and Canada proud in Afghanistan and other vital humanitarian missions at home and around the world.

But perhaps most notable of all, these fine Ottawa residents carry out often thankless duties while continuing to live, work, and attend school among ordinary citizens.  They go to school at Carleton, uOttawa, and Algonquin College.  They work as security guards and police officers.  They work for other government agencies such as Transport and Revenue Canada.  They tirelessly parade with the Ceremonial Guard throughout the summer.  They own and manage small businesses.  Indeed, many of these extraordinary citizens perform their military duties on top of their “day jobs.”  They demonstrate the highest commitment to Ottawa and our country, worthy of the highest honour and respect.

Considering this history, it only seems a fitting name for our city.  As Jeff Hunt, Chair of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (the company that owns the currently unnamed CFL team), admits, a name with strong connections to Ottawa’s history is a must.

If I could make one suggestion to make the Highlanders even more representative and historic, it would be to increase the use of the Cameron of Erracht tartan, the blue hackle, thistles, and St. Andrew’s Cross.  The silhouette of a soldier in a WWII helmet is certainly historic – but what of the current generation’s commitment to Bosnia, Israel, and Afghanistan?

Just imagine: Ottawa’s football team in kilts, with a blue hackle over the left ear and a thistle over the right. Conversely, a plaid jersey.  The possibilities are endless to create stunning uniforms which maintain their connection to the Highland tradition.

In recognition of a military regiment so deeply engrained in Ottawa, representative of our history, culture, and identity, there is no better name for our 2014 CFL team: the Ottawa Highlanders.