Lynn Squires was eight years old when her father died during a Canadian Armed Forces deployment to Kosovo. Fifteen years later, Ms. Squires, who is entering her second year of medical school at the University of Alberta, says the tragedy made her want to succeed.
“I chose not to focus on what happened to my family and what happened to my dad, but on how we’ve gotten through it together,” she said of the death of Sergeant Hedley Jerry Squires, who was on a three-day leave in Greece from a mission in Kosovo. Throughout her undergraduate years, Ms. Squires combined volunteering, soccer coaching and working three jobs and still managed to pull off the grades to get into medical school. “It was important to make my mom proud because I know what she went through.”
On Friday, Ms. Squires and her sister Laura will be among this year’s recipients of scholarships from the Canada Company, a non-profit organization that advocates for armed forces members and their families and helps them connect with business and their community.
The scholarships were were established in 2007 after Blake Goldring, the chairman and CEO of AGF Management, had a conversation with Gerry McCaughey, the president and CEO of the CIBC, about how to do something tangible for the families of Canadian soldiers killed on duty.
The CIBC donated $1-million (since doubled) to start the scholarship fund, which has support from a who’s who of Canadian companies and has led to more than 30 students to date receiving $16,000 over a four-year degree to attend university. The money, many of this year’s scholarship winners say, has been invaluable in allowing them to excel in school. Even more important, however, is the community they have found through meeting the children of other Canadian soldiers killed in action.
“I had no idea there was a community of kids who’d lost their parents, and now we are all connected,” said Jasmine Vialette, 19, a student in her second year of agricultural studies at Dalhousie University, whose father, Corporal Robert Vialette, died in Croatia in 1997. The students meet each other at least yearly, when the awards are given out in Toronto.
The scholarship’s founders did not predict that the students would form their own network, Mr. Goldring said. “One of the great benefits that was completely unexpected was that this would create a peer group for the children who’d experienced the same loss. And for the remaining parent as well to also have a support group, a network. To me, that is the most enduring and powerful aspect of the fund,” he said.
The money also helps the surviving parent pay for their children’s education. Many students say their surviving parent inspired them to succeed in school. Ms. Vialette’s mother had a science degree, but returned to university, earned a degree in social work and built a career in that field. “It’s shown me that you have to be prepared for whatever happens in life and able to support yourself,” Ms. Vialette said.
All military families draw some security from knowing the scholarship exists, said Mr. Goldring, who is also an honorary colonel for the Canadian Forces and visits families across the country. “Should something unforeseen happen, there’s a comfort in knowing that there is a group of Canadians that is ready to step up and help,” he said.
The scholarships are part of the Canada Company’s wider effort to help military families. An employment transition program helps discharged soldiers find jobs in the private sector, and a new educational initiative has persuaded most of Canada’s postsecondary institutions to offer free tuition and sometimes room and board to the kids of deceased soldiers.
No matter how young they were at the time of their loss, the students say they have been influenced in profound and daily ways by memories of their parent. Ms. Squires said seeing children’s poverty up close in northern Greece when she attended a ceremony honouring her father made her realize she wanted to help others.
Marisa Paul, who will attend Osgoode Hall Law School in September, said she always remembers her dad encouraging her to strive to serve her community. “In those moments when I want to say, ‘I don’t want to study tonight,’ I think there are sacrifices you need to make in order to do that.”