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RCAF gala celebrates centennial with touching speeches and entertainment

Guests slipped into their finery to formally celebrate the contributions of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at the Gala held on May 25 at the JJ Par Sports Centre.

COLD LAKE – Guests slipped into their finery to formally celebrate the contributions of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at the Gala held on May 25 at the JJ Par Sports Centre. 

Outside, guests were greeted by a military band, aircraft, and ground support equipment on display. Inside, the arena was transformed into a blue lit dining area with a stage for the evening's speeches and performances.  

Wing Commander David Turenne says, “It was an excellent celebration event. I am proud of our Centennial team and their efforts to make the event accessible to all our CFB Cold Lake members. One hundred years is a very special milestone - taking the opportunity to pause and celebrate the history and achievements of the RCAF as well as look forward to an exciting future generates pride and energy towards our mission.” 

Turenne kicked off the speeches, giving a history of the RCAF’s accomplishments. 

“This milestone not only commemorates a century of exceptional service and sacrifice but also highlights the pivotal role the RCAF has played in shaping our nation's military history and heritage. Our theme for this celebration includes looking at the past, present and future.” 

Turenne looks towards a bright future for the RCAF’s next 100 years. “The RCAF is undergoing a massive modernization effort that will reshape the capabilities we provide to Canadians and our allies. I am excited to see it come to fruition and envious of the young folks that have a long career ahead of them. 

Sharing his story 

Master Warrant Officer Chris Downey’s story of resilience was met with a standing ovation. On May 3, 2010, during his time in Afghanistan, his team was dispatched to neutralize an improvised explosive device. On the hike back, he remembers the world suddenly going silent, and the extreme heat of an explosion. 

“The medic and my teammates rushed to my aid, as they carried me to safety, I could hear them encouraging each other to keep pushing, despite the terrain, a broken stretcher and my constant resistance. A few days later I would awake in a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, unable to see unable to talk, walk, or move.” 

Downey sustained extreme injuries and said he was unprepared to hear the news that his friend, Petty officer 2nd class Douglas ‘Craig’ Blake was killed in the blast. 

“Once again, disbelief and anger took over. Lying in that hospital bed, I was confronted with a stark choice - I could succumb to despair, or I could choose to fight. Motivated by a promise to Craig, and to those who carried me to safety, that I would not waste a minute of my life, for their sacrifice, I chose to fight.” 

Downey highlighted the unwavering support of his comrades, his community, the medical professionals, and friends and family through his recovery, and how his military training supported his resilience. 

“In the Airforce we were trained to adapt and overcome, to find strength in the face of adversity. But this strength is not solely physical, it is mental, emotional, and most importantly communal.” 

Downey expressed his deep gratitude for his community. “Our greatest strength lies in our unity. To the members of this community, and many like it, you are the bedrock upon which we build our resilience.” 

Downey spoke about “embracing change and finding new purpose” as he continues to serve. He advocates for and supports injured and wounded veterans and aims to inspire others with his story. 


Keynote speaker Major General retired Dave Wheeler was so impressed with Downey’s speech, he said, “That was in my opinion the keynote speaker of the night...What a guy. What a story.” 

MG Retd Wheeler carried on to give a boisterous speech, encouraging the military members to keep up their hard work, thanking sponsors, and celebrating the implementation of the F-18s. 

Wheeler spoke fondly of Cold Lake or “fighter-town Canada,” and how he enjoys hearing the jets. “I watch these guys fly over my house... most every day. And I love it. It is the sound of freedom that I hear.” 

The entertainment for the night started with a well-received set by Canadian comedian Derek Seguin, followed by Canadian rock band The Trews, who kicked off the dancing for the evening. 

Guitarist John-Angus MacDonald spoke to the bands' experience performing for such a momentous anniversary such as the RCAF.  

“The organization was top notch, and we were treated very well by our hosts. It’s an honour to help the Royal Airforce celebrate 100 years.” 

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