Port Hawkesbury – As he reaches the end of a 211-day cross-country voyage with his horse Zoe, Paul Nichols is hoping his efforts will change the face of the Canadian veteran – a face much younger than many might realize.
A former member of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry with tours of duty in Bosnia and Croatia under his belt, Nichols, who originally trained with the Calgary Highlanders, was surprised with the reaction he received when he voluntarily ended his military service and settled into the British Columbia town where his wife Terry grew up.
“[It’s] a small town of about 20,000 people, and there’s not a huge connection with the military there,” Nichols told The Reporter.
“And I went into that community that thinks of a veteran as an old man, and I’m a young person, starting a new life. And I struggled – I really had a hard time finding my way and making that transition into the community.”
A random encounter during a shopping trip in Vancouver proved crucial to Nichols’ efforts to redefine his life’s journey and come to terms with his identity as a younger Canadian veteran.
“I was fortunate enough to have a woman recognize the seal on my jacket for what it was…She asked if I was a Canadian soldier, and I told her ‘Yes.’ And she shared her own story about living in the streets of Sarajevo, and acknowledging the Canadian troops that worked so hard and brought them aid and brought them out,” Nichols recalled.
“So it was her thank-you to my service in the Balkans that was really a life-changing moment to me.”
Inspired, Nichols sought the proper way to bring attention to the growing number of what he describes as “contemporary veterans” in Canada. Working on a basic horsemanship course for the Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces, Nichols developed the concept for The Ride Across Canada, which got under way last April in Victoria, B.C. and is slated to wrap up in St. John’s, NL on November 9, two days before Remembrance Day.
Joined by his wife, a therapeutic riding instructor, Nichols is pleased that his presence has raised awareness and funds for the Communities for Veterans Foundation (CVF) while encouraging an estimated 300 veterans to take their own rides on Zoe and six other horses that are part of the tour. In doing so, Nichols is hoping The Ride Across Canada will contribute to the national conversation about younger soldiers returning to Canada.
“When we started this ride, I was asking our veterans to share their stories and add their voice to mine, but in order for our veterans to open up and share their stories, I had to take a leadership role and take it deeper,” Nichols noted, shortly before bringing his tour to Antigonish, Port Hawkesbury and the Ceilidh Coastal Trail in Inverness County.
“I like to think that I’ve started on a new path.”
For more information, visit the Web site: www.communitiesforveterans.ca.