Skip to main content

Halsey Naismith, recipient of Canada Company’s scholarship for children of soldiers killed on duty, poses in Toronto, Thursday June 18, 2015. Her father, Capt. Kevin Naismith, a CF-18 pilot, was killed in May 2003 when his CF-18 jet crashed.Mark Blinch

Halsey Naismith always looked forward to seeing her dad after he returned home to Cold Lake, Alta., from weeks away on military missions. He'd often bring presents back, like a bunny Ms. Naismith had long wanted on her birthday.

One day, when she was six years old and waiting for her father to come home again, Ms. Naismith was told this time, he won't be back.

Captain Kevin Naismith was flying a CF-18 in 2003 when it began to roll uncontrollably during an annual international training exercise in Alberta. He ejected himself from the plane, but the parachute malfunctioned.

"That's hard to understand when you're that age," said Ms. Naismith, now 18. "As I got older, it got harder, not easier."

Her mother, Belinda Naismith, was left to support three children on her own with survivor benefits, which weren't enough to replace her late husband's income.

As her children grew older, Ms. Naismith discovered Canada Company was planning scholarships to help cover tuition expenses for children of soldiers killed on active duty or during authorized training. When the scholarship awarded its first crop of students in 2008, Ms. Naismith's eldest child, Adam Naismith, was among the recipients.

"This makes all the difference," Ms. Naismith said, adding her son just graduated with a degree in education and will soon start a teaching job. "It's a bittersweet moment. But we as a family choose to celebrate everything with a smile."

The scholarship fund was announced in 2007, a year after Canada Company launched as a union of business leaders in support of military families. The fund, which initially received a $1-million donation from CIBC, provides $4,000 a year for up to four years for children with a parent killed on duty. It has now grown to more than $2-million, with contributions from Barrick Gold Corp. founder Peter Munk, former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal and several other high-profile donors.

"The government does a decent job looking after the [spouse] of the fallen; it's really the children that sometimes get left behind," said Canada Company founder Blake Goldring, who also donated to the scholarship. "Broader society should do something to help the kids of the fallen and the best way to do that would be to provide free tuition and cash so that they can basically pursue whatever … they would like to do."

Sixty-seven scholarships have been awarded to date, said Mr. Goldring, CEO of AGF Management. As children of soldiers killed in Afghanistan come of university age, he said the fund will meet that need as well.

Ms. Naismith will receive her grant Friday along with nine other students at Canada Company's annual ceremony to present the scholarships at First Canadian Place in Toronto. She'll be the third in her family to receive it.

"It means a lot because I know that they're remembering my dad and honouring him," said Ms. Naismith, who begins a business program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in her current hometown of Moose Jaw this fall. "It's something we don't have to worry about, my tuition. Things like that are things my dad would have supported us with."

She said she's excited to meet the other students at Friday's ceremony, because her two other siblings have maintained good friendships with recipients they met each year in Toronto.

"It's kind of just nice to know that there's someone else out there that understands how you feel," Ms. Naismith said.