Exhibit honours service, sacrifice and courage in Irondale

    George Simmons holds the beret his father wore during the war.
    Forty-seven flags dot the grass besides the Irondale church.

    “Have you served in any naval, military or air force?” James Samson Wright, 18, wrote that he had not. The young man from Irondale signed his name in flowing cursive on a neatly typed enlistment form one Friday in late September, 1939. And then he went to war. Military attestations such as Wright’s are only one part of Service, Courage & Sacrifice, an exhibit at the Irondale heritage building until Nov. 13. 

    Outside the white church, more than 40 flags flutter quietly in the wind, each adorned with the face and name of someone who served and had a local connection to the area. “You’ve got to remember the past,” said George Simmons, who came up with the idea for the flags and exhibit. “If you don’t, then it’s pretty sad. You gain your knowledge from the past.” 

    He stands nearby the smiling face of his father, James George Simmons, who served in the Sixth Anti-Tank unit in the Second World War. 

    Simmons holds the same green beret his father wore for the photo, alongside other keepsakes, such as a map showing his unit’s movements around Europe.

    Inside the church, dozens of wartime artifacts form a tapestry of local service. Included are newspaper clippings from acclaimed Toronto Star war correspondent Frederik Griffin, whose stories of battles and sacrifice are accompanied by drawings and photographs on yellowed newsprint. 

    His wife Luella Griffin operated Camp O’ the Winds Lodge on Salerno Lake and was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in 1977. 

    Carol Simmons, left, spent months organizing the exhibit and researching the area’s military history.

    There are helmets, uniforms, notebooks, photos and more. George’s sister, Carol Simmons, pins up a flag reading “Welcome Home Son” on a pew, donated by an Irondale resident whose family had it made for their son’s return from war.

    After George suggested the idea, Carol helped organize the exhibits and flags, as well as unearthing attestation papers. Carol has researched military heroes before. 

    In 2016, she investigated the story of Herbert Aubrey Maxwell. Maxwell, of Gooderham, was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive a medal from King George VI for assuming control of his platoon and saving the life of his commander under heavy gunfire. Carol and George said the flags serve as a visual reminder of those who served. “Everybody out there on a flag has a tie to Irondale in some way. 

    Some of them were cottagers, some of them were people who visited up here,” she said. Funding from each family who had a flag, as well as the Bark Lake Cultural Developments, Minden Rotary Club, and Haliburton County Development Corporation, helped make the exhibit possible. 

    Carol said she was impressed by the feedback from the Irondale community. “There are 47 flags out there. For the little area, that’s a lot.” She and George said they’d like to see the idea adopted by more towns in Haliburton County. Brenda Burt brought a framed collection of some of her father’s possessions, including medals and a Bible. “They would not talk about it,” she said, referring to her father’s wartime experiences.

     She said seeing the flags and historical artifacts make her think about her father’s sacrifices.

     “I’m just so proud,” she said. Produced by Bark Lake Cultural Developments, Service, Courage and Sacrifice is on display at the Irondale church (1013 Elm Rd.) each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Nov. 13.