A simple conversation between friends has led to the Canada Gate finding a way to get to Europe, at no cost.

VSI Worldwide owner Hillary Chouinard was attending a concert with friend Corrine MacLellan, who is on the Army Museum‘s board of governors  and involved in the project.

“She mentioned in passing this project [Canada Gate], and they had no idea how they were going to get it to Europe,” says Chouinard. “She wondered if I had any ideas or if I could make any suggestions. Off the cuff, I suggested we could put it in a container with a few vehicles no problem.”

Chouinard knew little about the project.

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Hillary Chouinard, owner of VSI Worldwide, is thrilled to have her company involved in the shipping of the Canada Gate to Passchendale in Belgium. The announcement was made at Chouinard’s company’s office in Burnside on Oct. 2. Photo: Patrick Healey

“I made the suggestion without knowing what it was, how big it was, any scope of the project,” says the Waverley resident. “Over the next couple of weeks, I found out how big it was, how elaborate of a design it was, and the amount of logistical support required both here and overseas to get it from the port through customs to Flanders where it will be erected. We took the project on and we’re donating all the time and costs involved for logistics and transportation for here and in Europe.”

Chouinard will also attend the dedication ceremony of the Canada Gate in Belgium, where it commemorates Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War at the Battle of Passchendaele a century ago.

Ken Hynes, curator of the Halifax-based Army Museum, describes what those soldiers went through.

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Ken Hynes with the Army Museum speaks during the Canada Gate announcement at VSI Worldwide in Burnside on Oct. 2. Photo: Patrick Healey

“The last 700 metres, from Crest farm to the final capture of Passchendaele, took them 10 long, terrifying days,” he told the crowd of about 35 people at the ceremonial send-off inside the VSI warehouse on Oct. 2.

Workers will install the one-tonne steel gate in the days leading up to events next month that mark the culmination of the 100-day battles in what is the Canadian military’s bloodiest fight in their history. Nancy Keating is the artist who designed the Canada Gate, which was constructed by Avon Valley Metalworks. She also created The Last Steps memorial on the Halifax waterfront.

Chouinard said her involvement was strictly a favour for a friend at first. “It didn’t start out being anything special to me,” she says. “It was just helping out a friend. What I subsequently learned was that my great grandfather fought at Passchendale and survived—also at Vimy, and that his brother, my great uncle passed away at Vimy and is buried there. It’s given a lot of lessons on my family history.”

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VSI Worldwide Trading owner Hillary Chouinard, of Waverley, speaks about her Burnside companies involvement in the project, which will see them donate the costs to ship it with her vehicles overseas to Belgium. Photo: Patrick Healey

When Chouinard initially said yes to helping out, she was thinking of her late father-in-law who fought in and survived the Second World War. “This was the wrong war, but I still thought it would have meaning for my family,” she says. “It went from being a tribute to my father-in-law to my great grandfather and great uncle as to why I’m doing it.”

She’s glad that her business is able to allow her to help out this way. “It’s something different,” said Chouinard. “It’s all about giving back. This just feels good to be able to do. It’s nice to be able to do it and be in a position that my business can afford to do this.”

Canada Gate, which stands about four metres high, includes metal poppies at the base of each of the two arches. “This is not a monument, but a moment in time re-imagined,” said Keating at the launch event. “It’s a portal from the past, where we can retrace the steps—not only of those who did not or could not return to Canada, but also of those who did return, their lives forever changed.”