Navy brass launch The Homecoming

It was a day "inspired by gratitude," as Honorary Captain Cedric Steele put it.

He was referring to last Monday's unveiling of an artist's sketch of the statue The Homecoming on Wharf Street. The event doubled as a 99th birthday party for the Canadian Navy, complete with a singalong to the Naden Band's rendition of Happy Birthday.

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More than 100 civic and business leaders and retired and active military officers gathered next to the Visitor Information Centre, on harbourfront land made available by the Provincial Capital Commission to display Nathan Scott's naval centennial statue.

The sculptor -- best known for his Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero -- is creating the bronze structure on a granite and marble base. It will depict the happy reunion of a girl and her father, a sailor just home from sea, as her dog looks on.

The project's patron, Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, and other dignitaries -- including retired vice-admiral Nigel Brodeur and Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific -- were on hand to launch a fundraising campaign for the $150,000 naval memorial statue to be unveiled May 4, 2010.

Funds are being raised through gala events and the sale of pewter miniature statues and commemorative bricks that can be inscribed with the names of loved ones. B.C. artist Len Gibbs, a retired able seaman himself, is creating a special painting.

"You've gotta love a man in uniform," joked Point, playfully adjusting his naval uniform on the podium.

Scott, son of an Armed Forces veteran, said his aim was to "capture the emotion" of a homecoming.

"It's touching. The action of running to her father has been played out in the past, today and will in the future," the Esquimalt-raised sculptor said.

"Nathan has told me it comes with a 10,000-year guarantee," deadpanned Steele, who envisioned the project after being inspired by a statue built in Halifax for the navy's 75th anniversary. He expressed gratitude to local businesses, the commission's Ray Parks and chairman Bill Wellburn for the site, and to his co-chair, retired admiral Ken Summers.

"He's my secret weapon," Steele quipped, as HMCS Brandon hovered behind them.

One medal-bedecked observer who appreciated what Summers called "payback to the Navy by the community" was John Mason, 85.

"You get a lot of these if you stay in long enough," said the veteran, who joined the navy in 1942 and served on nine ships, including as commanding officer on HMCS Algonquin.

The best is yet to come, said Summers in anticipation of the Canadian Navy Centennial next year.

"It's going to be quite an event down here."

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