Strathcona Mounted Troop: There and Back Again

By Trooper Conor Longjohn

On the morning of July 30th, 2013, the Strathcona Mounted Troop (SMT) departed the Stables at Edmonton Garrison to begin their longest road trip of the season. Our first stop was in Vernon, BC, where we stayed the night at the Vernon Army Cadet Camp (VACC). Although the stay in Vernon was short and sweet, the members of SMT enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs (whether 2 or 4) before finishing the final leg to the Agrifair in Abbotsford, BC.

We arrived in Abbotsford and, as per normal, immediately began our preparation to house the horses for the next six days. What wasn’t normal was the reception we received when we arrived: Susan Krotcher, who I would later learn was affectionately referred to as “Mamma” by all the older members of the Troop, met us as soon as we arrived and helped us position our trailer in the proper spot.  Immediately after Sergeant Paul Kruhlak got out of the Van to meet her, she embraced him with a huge bear-hug, tears in her eyes, and told him how happy she was to see “her boy” back in town.  This sentiment was mirrored by all the people involved in getting the Troop to perform, including Agrifair president Mr. Ernie Silveri, Miss Cathy Jacobs, and her two assistants, Melina Gamble and Alicia Jacobs.  These ladies home-style cooking proved once again that the quickest way to any soldier’s heart is through his stomach!  Everyone involved really went out of their way to make us feel at home which made the five ride performances in 30 degree heat well worth it.  Likewise, the hundreds of spectators who applauded and cheered on the riders in every performance were greatly appreciated.

As our trip to Abbotsford was winding down, we were served a delicious meal in the company of Mr. Ernie Silveri and the Abbotsford Mayor, Bruce Banman. The dinner was only the beginning of the festivities that night, and I soon learnt that it was tradition for all the new riders to participate in a hands-free ice cream challenge, which was (quite literally) the icing on the cake for whole trip.  Before we left the next morning, the cooks impressed us yet again when they presented every soldier with a lunch bag for the trip home. Each bag was individually made and was decorated with hand-drawn, personality-based cartoon characters and sketches.

From Abbotsford, SMT drove straight through the mountains on route back to Edmonton.  After about 15 hours of driving, the soldiers of the Strathcona Mounted Troop were happy to be home.   After a short day off, the Troop was back on the road headed to Valleyview, AB.  The event was setup to be a three day trip where we would participate in two musical rides and one city parade.

When we arrived in Valleyview, we met up with a former Strathcona, Mr. Don Gourlay, who was responsible for arranging the Troop’s visit.  Don had served in the Canadian Armed Forces for seven years with an overseas tour to Korea.  Don took great care of his fellow Strathcona’s with a fantastic 9-course dinner at the K.C. Lau Restaurant - a great way to kick-start the weekend! 

The next morning we were set to participate in the Valleyview Parade followed by a musical ride performance at the rodeo.  I had to say, the horses had their work cut out for them. Our journey to the parade was a little more than we had expected and, under escort from Canadian Forces Rangers, we crossed over two major Highways and trotted for what seemed like 5 km before reaching the parade start point.

Shortly after the parade was over we had a quick, half hour “break” then jumped straight into the musical ride.  We had some new and interesting changes to the ride list. Trooper Travis Gibbons and his mount Saxon took over as new section leads, and despite the look of frustration on his face he did an exceptional job.  We also had a new rider that day, Trooper William Kirk Hopper.  Usually a member of Ground Crew, Trooper Hopper had never completed a full ride this season, but he could not have had a better ride.  As the day wound down, Mr. Gourley invited the troop over for a good old farm BBQ and a couple beers.  Don shared some stories with the Troop about his experiences in Korea and his service in the military during his generation.  I can’t thank Don enough for the knowledge he shared and the welcome he gave us. It truly is and honor for me to have met such an outstanding Strathcona veteran who served in Korea.

After a long ride home, both the horses and members of the troop were treated to a few more days off before heading back out on the road….but that’s another story for another day.