Most Remembrance Day ceremonies are organized through local legion branches. Fort Langley’s ceremony is unique, a grassroots community event.
It all started with two people – Gordie Gillard and Brenda Alberts, who are both now buried in the Fort Langley Cemetery.
“Brenda’s gravesite is the closest one to the flag pole. And before this year’s Remembrance Day service a granite bench will be installed by an anonymous donor under a holly tree just a few steps from her gravesite and the flag pole with the inscription ‘Brenda Alberts – She Flew the Flag!’,” said Kurt Alberts, Brenda’s husband, who noted Gillard is buried nearby in the veterans section of the cemetery.
In 1999 Brenda was at her art gallery. Her husband, in the midst of campaigning for Township council, was at the Aldergrove service.
On Nov. 11, just before 11, Brenda was in the gallery where an elderly gentleman came looking for Kurt.
“This well-dressed man said that he wanted to complain as it appears there was no Remembrance service at the historic cenotaph across the road,” Kurt recounted.
Brenda explained that services were not a municipal responsibility and Kurt wasn’t yet elected.
“By this time it was almost 11 o’clock, so she said ‘wait a minute’ and went upstairs to retrieve something,” Kurt said. “Brenda returned with her coat and her father’s Bible, which he had with him during his service in the Navy.”
Gordie Gillard then introduced himself as a Second World War veteran. They rushed over to the cenotaph.
They held their own improvised service and got to talking about the community’s historic cenotaph and the veterans’ section of the cemetery.
“Brenda made a commitment to Gordie. She assured him that next year there would be a real service. And there was, with a reverend, hymns, and a program and a couple dozen people joining in,” Kurt explained.
The service grew.
Soon they needed a sound system.
The Fraser Blues started doing an annual fly past.
In 2011, Brenda championed the Rally Round the Flag Pole fundraiser to install a flag pole near the cenotaph and Kwantlen First Nation was invited to be a formal part of the service.
“Gillard attended each year, as a proud Canadian, until his death in 2014,” Kurt elaborated.
By then, they had established the Fort Langley Remembrance Day ceremony as a community tradition that attracted big crowds.
“Brenda retired from the Remembrance Day organizing back a few years ago, after about 11 or so years, as by then it was well established to her satisfaction,” Kurt said.
Through the years she was the definition of community booster, supporting Relay for Life, Langley Hospice, Willoughby Community Hall, the Langley Christmas Bureau, the Fort Langley Cenotaph flagpole installation, Canadian Museum of Flight, and many other local causes.
Then Brenda fought her own war. She died of cancer at the age of 66 in July 2016.
In addition to the memorial bench, a stretch of 96th Avenue through Fort Langley has been renamed in her honour.
Langley historian Warren Sommer recalled the day she asked him to serve as the master of ceremonies for the event.
“Such was her power of persuasion… I ended up chairing the committee for 10 years,” Sommer said.
Alberts was quick to take up a cause or project if she felt it needed doing, he recalled.
“She just dove in, and such was her commitment to the community, that people came around and supported her,” Sommer said after her passing. “And we’re better for it.”
Her warm, generous, and passionate personality was what helped her convince others to help out, Sommer said.
“She will leave a big gap to be filled,” he said.