For most people, the honours and accolades come after they are dead.
When decorated war veteran, Clarence “Gus” Este, learned that an Ottawa recreational park would be renamed after him, he made sure that family members from across Canada and the United States would be there to share the special moment.
Brookside Park, which is about a 10-minute drive from Este’s residence, was rechristened at a simple ceremony last week.
“First of all, I was very surprised when I was notified that my name would be attached to a public facility,” said Este, who served in the military for 33 years. “For people like me, these things seldom happen and if does, it’s after you are no longer alive. It’s a gesture that I and my family are very proud of.”
Relatives from as far as Delaware and New York joined Este, his wife of 60 years, Olive and his children at the event.
Eldest child Dr. David Este, who is a University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work professor, said the dedication of a park in his father’s name is a major honour for him and the family.
“Through his contributions to Canadian society with a career in the military and subsequently through an array of volunteer activities, he has served as a positive role model not only for my three siblings and me but countless others from different racial and cultural backgrounds,” he said. “My father is driven by an important and fundamental value and that’s ensuring that all Canadians have opportunities to fully use their knowledge and abilities and that all of us are valued and recognized in this society.”
The other siblings are Denise Voetman who is a Manitoba Housing & Community Development adjudicator, Dwight Este who is a regional environment, health, safety & security manager at Chemtura Canada in Kitchener and Deborah Maciej who is a nurse at a geriatric home in Trenton.
Este was a close friend of fellow war veteran, Owen Rowe, who passed away in 2005. Shortly after his death, Rowe’s daughter – Kathy Grant – established the Legacy Voices Institute, the only national project dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Black Canadian military history.
“I have known Gus for almost 40 years and his contributions to Canada are significant,” said Grant. “He’s recognized globally for his accomplishments and lifelong commitment to the military and community service. He’s an inspiration not just to the Black community but all Canadians.”
Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre attended the ceremony honouring Este, whose first tour of duty was on the Korean Peninsula when the North invaded its neighbour south of the 38th parallel.
“Canadians are grateful to those who served in the Korean War and want to ensure their sacrifices are recognized,” said Poilievre. “More than 26,000 Canadians served in what has been called, for too long, the forgotten war. For Canada, the cost of this service was high with 516 Canadians making the ultimate sacrifice. This park will help residents remember the true sacrifice of Canadian veterans for years to come.”
Deputy Mayor Steve Desroches hosted the official commemorative naming ceremony in Barrhaven, a rapidly growing suburban neighbourhood about 17 kilometres southwest of downtown Ottawa.
“Mr. Este is a model of lifetime service to Canada and his community,” said Desroches, who is also the city councillor for the community where Gus Este Park is located. “This commemorative park naming will serve to honour one of Barrhaven’s most active, decorated and well-known community members as well as recognize Canada’s contribution in the Korean War.”
Born in Montreal in 1931, Este joined the Canadian military shortly after leaving high school.
“In June 1950, I followed most of my schoolmates who had applied to the Canadian Army Special Force that was being assembled for United Nations operations in Korea,” said Este. “I however had to wait until I reached 19 in October of that year before I could join.”
After basic training at Camp Borden and advance training with the Canadian Infantry Brigade at Fort Lewis in Seattle, he was assigned to Korea as a medical assistant.
“I was so horrified by what I saw there on the ground during the war that I left the military after about three years and joined Canada Post,” said Este. “I however found that I did not like working a regular 9 to 5 job and when my friends who had remained with the military kept sending me letters and postcards, I decided to re-enlist in the military.”
Rising to the rank of master warrant officer and then captain in 1974, Este did several tours in the Middle East prior to retirement 26 years ago.
He has been quite active in his community, volunteering with several organizations including the Lions Club, the Ontario Lung Association, the Mayor of Nepean’s Task Force on Visible Minorities, the Nepean Public Library Board, the Canadian Korea Association and the Royal Canadian Legion.
“I can’t recall ever coming to Barrhaven for an event without Gus being front and centre, organizing and being the face of those organizations,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
The new park sign includes the Veterans Affairs Canada logo marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.