Welcome to Veteran, Alberta: Home of the Big Poppy

Find out how this friendly Prairie village got its name, and the incredible story of its very own war veteran, Private David Pennington.

Veteran, Alberta - Big PoppyCourtesy Judy Bishell

A few years ago, our local Lions Club discussed the fact that other towns have erected large symbols to acknowledge the history of their communities. It only seemed appropriate that with our village’s name association with Remembrance Day, Veteran, Alberta, needed a poppy.

As it says in our local history book, “Where the Prairie Meets the Hills” (originally titled “Wheatbelt”):

“With the coming of the railway in 1912, came the building of the C.P.R. station which was named ‘Veteran.’ There were eight townsites named ‘patriotically’ on this stretch of railway by the C.P.R. All owe their name to circumstances surrounding the coronation of King George V. The townsites were respectively named Fleet, Federal, Coronation, Throne, Veteran, Loyalist, Consort and Monitor. Each name had a distinct relation to the current coronation ceremony. ‘Veteran’ means those who have long been in service of the British crown. ‘Parliament’ and ‘army’ are undoubtedly the distinct symbols for which this little village stands.”

Saluting our poppy, which was erected in November of 2019, is Veteran’s very own war veteran, Private David Pennington, 98 years young at the time. —Judy Bishell

We’re sad to report that Private David Pennington passed away not long after this photo was taken. Below is his incredible story, as told by his daughter, Viola Tkach.

Private David Pennington during WWIICourtesy Viola Tkach
Dave during the war.

Private David Pennington, The Veteran of Veteran, Alberta

A proud daughter pays tribute to her father and hometown hero.

By Viola Tkach, Our Canada

On August 19, 1943, my father enlisted in the Canadian Army. After boot camp in Grand Prairie and Calgary, he left Alberta as Private David Pennington of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, part of the First Canadian Infantry. Travelling by train, he headed east to meet the ship that would take him to England and then to the war in Europe.

Dave, as he was known to one and all, joined the war effort near Pachino, Sicily, then the fighting up through Sicily and Italy in the Italian Campaign. Many battles were fought by Canadian soldiers and their fellow Allies while going through Italy. Some of the battles Dave fought in included the Battle of Monte Cassino, Ortona, Hitler Line, Gothic Line, Coriano Ridge and more. In September 1944, the Battle at Coriano Ridge began and Dave was wounded. On that particular day, he was acting as a dispatch runner, being very fast. He was hit by shrapnel and was blown into a ditch full of water. This could have been the end of his story, but soldiers saw what happened and rushed to help him.

Dave was transported to Rome and then to England for a very long convalescence. He always said that the ambulances today have not improved any from that long trek cross country to Rome!

Whenever one of his buddies died, Dave would sing the song, “Beyond the Sunset.” Soon other soldiers began asking him to sing for them, the living, as well.

Private David Pennington Veteran AlbertaCourtesy Viola Tkach
In 2013, Veterans Affairs Canada reissued Dave’s medals.

Dave was discharged from the Canadian Army on March 30, 1946. Images of the war haunted him the rest of his life. In recent years, Dave began to share many of his experiences from the war. He began speaking at the Veteran School in Veteran, Alberta, for Remembrance Day services, telling the students, staff and community his stories; many were not easy to hear.

In 2013, Dave was greatly honoured when the junior high students of the Veteran school lobbied Veterans Affairs Canada to have his medals reissued to him. Major Arcoutte and Sergeant Duncan of CFB Wainwright presented Private First Class David Pennington with his new medals in a very special ceremony hosted by the school. This honoured ceremony was news blasted around the world! The wonderful honour bestowed upon him helped him see a different side of his service and made him so very proud.

Dave was one of ten children born on a farm southwest of Veteran, to Andrew and Agnes Pennington. He spent his early years going to school and helping around the farm. When he got a bit older he spent his free time riding and training horses. This eventually led to trying his luck at bronc riding in many rodeos throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana—riding in the Calgary Stampede was a major highlight.

Check out more incredible stories from Canadian veterans.

Originally Published in Our Canada