The 49th (Sault Ste Marie) Field Artillery Regiment converted from Medium Anti-aircraft in 1961. Since then, the gun used has been the 105mm howitzer. Initially the C1 version, today the gunners are operating the C3 variant.
The two anti-aircraft guns mounted in front of the armoury reflect the past but there was nothing to indicate the present.
In the fall of 2017 LCol Lance Knox, Commanding Officer (CO) of the 49th began making inquiries about how to acquire a 105mm howitzer. The search proved difficult as the 105 has been a resilient weapons system and was still in use throughout the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). Requests for a monument gun through the Brigade HQ and to the RCA proved fruitless.
The next effort focused on private or other government sources. Surprisingly, there were a number of howitzers in private ownership and some of those were for sale. The price however was well beyond anything affordable. One request led to a potentially career limiting end. Through a friend, a verbal request was made. That friend turned to another friend in the US Pentagon who knew of a US military program that provided decommissioned guns to various US groups. The waiting list was ten years and fortunately, the 49th CO was able to turn off the request before it reached official channels and caused a ruckus throughout the CAF command.
It appeared that the concept of acquiring a 105 was going to end when one more opportunity arose.
In February of 2018 the CO read an RCA newsletter that had an article about the acquisition of a 25-pounder howitzer. That gun was to be mounted on Point 67 in France in time for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The gunner who acquired the 25-pounder was Brigadier General (retired) E.B. Beno. The CO had met BGen Beno a couple of years earlier during a battlefield tour in France.
A call to BGen Beno was met with friendly support however he stated the same things that the CO had discovered, namely that the 105 would be a difficult thing to acquire as the CAF still uses it. Nevertheless, BGen Beno promised to see what he could find.
Three weeks after speaking with BGen Beno, the CO received a phone call… BGen Beno may have found a gun!
Through a friend on the East Coast who had a friend who knew of a gun collector, a 105 was located. The gun collector was Mr. Francis Atkinson QC. Unfortunately, Mr. Atkinson had passed away in December of 2017. The gun had been acquired a few years earlier from a DND monuments program and for a short time had been displayed in front of the Wulastook Museum in downtown Fredericton New Brunswick. Upon closing the downtown museum, the gun had been moved to the family cottage property. Mr. Atkinson’s widow, Mary (May) expressed an interest in seeing the gun more prominently displayed and had mentioned this to a friend of her late husband, retired LCol William (Bill) Leonard. He in turn had mentioned it to retired LCol Allen (Ike) Kennedy and as luck would have it, when BGen Beno called his friend Ike, the timing could not have been better.
BGen Beno set up a phone call with Mrs. Atkinson and the CO and Honourary Colonel (HCol) Clyde Healey. The purpose of the call was to confirm the gun was available and to introduce the 49th personnel to Mrs. Atkinson. The call went very well and it was decided that a face-to-face visit would be required for Mrs. Atkinson to meet the potential recipients and for the SSM gunners to see the gun to confirm its suitability for display.
As chair of the Lest We Forget library, HCol Healey arranged funding to travel to Fredericton. On June 19th, 2018 armed with a legal agreement of transfer HCol Healey and LCol Knox met with Mrs. Atkinson. The meeting was very successful, she liked the thoughts of the gun being displayed in a prominent location in Sault Ste Marie AND in front of an armoury where that model of gun was still in use. The gun itself was in very good condition and had been expertly decommissioned by the DND Montreal depot.
With a signed transfer agreement in place, all that remained was to bring the gun back to Sault Ste Marie.
Upon returning to SSM, the Regimental Senate was updated on the project and funding was requested to retrieve the gun. Since the gun was not a DND asset, DND resources were not available. The Senate enthusiastically approved the project budget and the planning for bringing the gun to SSM began.
It proved to be a bit of a challenge to arrange the movement as civilian transport services far exceeded the project budget. A call went out to serving and past members for assistance. WO (ret) Sandy Ross was quick to volunteer not only his services, but his personal vehicle and a friend’s trailer.
On July 16, 2018 WO Ross, his wife and the CO and his wife began the 2,500km journey to Fredericton. Alternating drivers, the journey was completed in two days. On July 18th, the retrieval team met with Mrs. Atkinson and her personal armourer Mr. Derek Purdy at the Atkinson cottage.
Like most things in the military, the original plan didn’t survive and the rehearsed plan to load the gun onto the trailer stalled. Mrs. Atkinson stepped in at that point and asked if her tractor would be of assistance. WO Ross, the retired farmer practically ran to her shed and using the tractor quickly had the gun situated on the trailer.
After a long day of loading, the team was ready for the return trip. Using the same process of alternating drivers, the gun arrived in late afternoon of August 20, 2018 to be greeted by a group of volunteers.
Due to the small budget, the construction of the pad for the gun mount required local donations. Fortunately, a number of local businesses stepped up when asked. RA Engineers provided the drawings required for DND approval, Fisher-Wavy Concrete supplied the concrete and Pioneer Construction the labour, gravel and construction. Unit members provided additional support: Capt King laid out the pad and installed the axle brackets, several members volunteered to move the gun onto the pad, HCol Healey assisted throughout. The 33 Svc Bn provided the brackets.
The gun was mounted on the evening of 07 Aug 19.
Note – The gun is laid on a bearing that points to the center of the artillery impact area at Camp Grayling Michigan. Although howitzers operated by gunners of the regiment have been fired in many locations in Canada and the US, Camp Grayling has been the primary artillery training area since 1976. The majority of rounds fired would have been there and since the bearing matches closely with the orientation of Pine Street, it seemed appropriate to lay the gun so that it was pointed at the impact area.
On Saturday, September 28, 2019 as part of the National Army Reserve Job Fair, a small ceremony will be held to dedicate and bless the gun. The people involved in the gun project, the regiment, local dignitaries and the public are invited.
Honourary Padre The Very Reverend James McShane will bless the gun. Local contractors and businesses who provided the gun pad will be acknowledged and presented with mementos. A reception will be held afterwards.
This project would not have been possible without the support of a number of individuals and organizations.
HCol Clyde Healey
- Providing Lest We Forget Library and Senate support to the project.
- Accompanying the CO to meet Mrs. Atkinson for the first time.
- Arranging for the transfer agreement
- Coordinating the dedication event and reception details.
BGen (ret) E.B. Beno
- Sourcing the gun and coordinating the initial phone call with Mrs. Atkinson.
- Providing advice to the CO throughout the project.
LCol (ret) Bill Leonard
- Connecting the CO to Mrs. Atkinson.
LCol (ret) Allen (Ike) Kennedy
- Connecting BGen Beno to LCol Leonard.
- Being an incredible host to the retrieval team the evening of August 18, 2018.
Mrs. Mary (May) Atkinson
- For her generous donation of the howitzer to the Lest We Forget library.
- For her outstanding hosting of the HCol and CO during the introductory meeting and the retrieval team at her cottage.
Mr. Derek Purdy
- For his assistance to the retrieval team and for maintaining the gun while with the Atkinsons.
HLCol Michael O’Neil
- For his legal assistance with the transfer agreement.
Lest We Forget Library
- For agreeing to accept the transfer.
- For the funding of the introductory visit.
49th Field Regiment Senate
- For their support of the project including funding the retrieval team’s travel expenses.
WO (ret) Sandy Ross
- For his outstanding willingness to provide his own vehicle and to acquire a suitable trailer.
- For his tireless efforts with the retrieval team drive to/from Fredericton and the long day of loading the gun.
Ms. Bev Brethat and WO (ret) Pattie Knox
- For their volunteering to accompany the retrieval team and for keeping the team morale high.
WO Andrew Berthier
- For his coordination of 4 CDSG support to allow construction of the pad.
33 Svc Bn
- For providing the axle mount stands.
Capt Gary King
- For his involvement with the pad design.
- For his coordination of the pad construction including the axle stands.
- For installing the axle stands.
Capt Shawn Cartier
- For his coordination with the contractor during construction of the pad.
Mrs. Bev Teller
- For her support and suggestions on local business support of the project.
- For their generous donation of material, equipment and time to construct the pad.
- For their generous donation of materials for the pad construction.
Mr. Terry Rainone
- For his immediate support to the project through the coordination of Pioneer Construction and Fisher-Wavy support to the project.
LCol R.J. Lambert
- For his support as Commanding Officer in the dedication ceremony.
LCol (ret) V.L. Knox
- Project conception.
- Approval acquisitions.
- Transfer agreement negotiations.
- Retrieval team participant.
- Contractor sourcing.