The Canadian Press—Toronto
For one parent it meant staring into the eyes of a son lost too soon. For another, it was a chance to honour the daughter who was taken too early.
Canadians across the country will get a chance to see for themselves a hand-painted mural of the 156 members of the Canadian Forces who lost their lives as part of the mission to Afghanistan.
The Portraits of Honour, created by artist Dave Sopha, is to be unveiled in Trenton, Ont., today and will travel from coast to coast to give Canadians a chance to honour those who gave their lives to better those of others.
The oil-painted mural stretches three metres by 10 metres and features the faces of every Forces member who has died as part of the Afghan mission.
Sopha used photographs and advice from family members to make each face an honest depiction of the person.
“Each one takes me about 80 hours and I become almost like their best friend,” Sopha said in an interview. “I sit there and talk to them and work on them all day and all night.”
He has spent more than 6,500 hours on the mural but says his work won’t be complete until Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan comes to a close in July.
The project began in December 2008, after Sopha read the news of the 100th soldier to die on the mission. The 63-year-old said he felt compelled to do something for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
While the work can be gruelling, Sopha said talking to the families who have lost loved ones inspires him to complete what he set out to do.
“You get emotional and drained and you wonder if you can keep going on it, but when you meet the families, you know you have to keep going,” he said.
One particularly poignant tale is that of the father who couldn’t wait for the mural to make its way to Newfoundland.
“He said: ’I have prostate cancer and I have four months to live and I want to come see my son, look into his eyes, before I go meet my son,’” said Sopha. “It’s been very emotional.”
The mural will be on the road for six months, collecting money for the Military Family Fund — it aims to raise $1.5 million through donations.
The ultimate goal of the travelling art piece, however, is to provide Canadians with an opportunity to remember, honour and celebrate the men and women who wear the uniform of the Canadian Forces.
“This is no longer just a painting, this is more of like a monument,” said Sopha. “You don’t even have to be a family member, when you look into the eyes of these men and women, you can help but be emotional.”