Operation Raise a Flag, Sunnybrook
It's time to thank our Veterans for
keeping Canada strong and free.
Messages of Support

Say Thank You to Canada's Veterans

On Remembrance Day, show them how much you care. They stood on guard for thee. Now you can give these brave men and women something in return. On November 11th, you can raise a flag in support of our veterans and make their day.

Honour and give thanks for their sacrifice. Support Operation Raise a Flag today.

You can also share a message of support and thanks with our brave Veterans today.

Say Thank You to Canada's Veterans

Our Resident Veterans
Clayton (Clay) Hayes
Canadian Merchant Navy, World War II

In the fall of 1944, 17 year old Clayton (Clay) Hayes hopped a freight train headed to the West Coast of British Columbia from his home in Brandon, Manitoba and enlisted in the Canadian Merchant Navy. His brother was already serving with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). His father had served with the Merchant Navy (United Kingdom) during World War I (WWI). Stationed in Vancouver, Clay was assigned to the Goldstream Park merchant ship. Merchant ships carried vital cargo to the people affected by the war (food / clothing) as well as much needed military supplies (aircraft, tanks, guns and munitions) and whatever else was required for the war effort.

The Goldstream traveled down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal to New York Harbor where it would become part of a convoy of 80–90 ships gathering from across the United States and Canada before heading across the Atlantic to England. Because of its vital cargo, the convoy was a prime target for enemy surface raiders and U-boats. Part of Clay’s job as an Able Bodied Seaman was either to man the crow’s nest, on watch for enemy subs and aircraft, or to be at the wheel steering the ship.

Clay recalls that on one trip leaving from Vancouver, they were hit by a severe storm off the coast of California. All hands were on deck, trying to save the lumber secured to the deck with chains. The storm was so bad, they lost all the lumber and a number of crewmen (including a friend of his) were badly injured. The injured were taken to a hospital in San Pedro, California before the Goldstream renewed its trip.

One of the scariest moments came while unloading their cargo at the Surrey Commercial Docks in southeast London. The fleet got hit numerous times by unmanned German planes launched from German occupied France. Although the bombs landed close by, their ship was not hit. Others were and lives were lost. After the war ended in 1945, Clay stayed on for another two to three years to help with the post war rebuilding efforts.

Upon his return home, Clay married Margaret Doyle and together they raised four children (three daughters and a son). Over the course of his working life, Clay owned and operated several small businesses in the Toronto area including one that manufactured menu covers and another that sold industrial latex to art supply stores across Canada and the United States. He retired at the age of 85. Margaret passed away in 2010 at age 82.

When asked about his war experience, Clay is positive. “I’d do it again for sure,” he said. “The whole war experience was very good. I’m very proud of the role that the Merchant Navy played in providing desperately needed equipment, fuel, food and personnel to Europe and around the world.”

Sang Woong Lee
Sang Woong Lee
South Korean Army, Served in the Korean War
Sang Woong Lee

Born in 1930, Sang Woong Lee spent most of his life in South Korea raising a family of six, and immigrated to Canada later into his adult life.

He spent many years with the Korean Army, and was deployed for service in the Korean War. He fought in the notable Battle of Incheon. He was specifically involved with the Incheon Landing, also known as Operation Chromite. He was also one of the members of the Army Unit that planted the South Korean flag at the centre of Seoul’s government building after two weeks of fighting. Thus, reclaiming the city and signifying its return to the government on September 29th, 1950. What a momentous moment to be a part of at the young age of 20.

After the war he then carried on in his career as military police. He also spent time in Vietnam and Saudi Arabia fulfilling various other roles. Now at the age of 91 (as of 2021) he resides at the Veterans Centre at Sunnybrook.

Richard Ratcliffe
Richard Ratcliffe
Royal Canadian Navy
Richard Ratcliffe
Richard Ratcliffe

When Richard Ratcliffe left his home in St. Catherines, Ontario to enlist at age 17, he was on a quest for adventure, eventually travelling far from the Royal Canadian Naval College in British Columbia to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Western Pacific, as well as seeing active service during the Korean War.

As a member of the Royal Canadian Navy, Richard participated in daring missions around the world, buoyed by a sense of pride in being able to defend the interests of the United Nations and NATO over the course of a successful military career that spanned roughly 25 years.

He rose through the ranks, serving aboard 12 ships and ultimately as Commander of the famed destroyer the HMCS Qu’Appelle, with a crew of 230. During the Korean conflict from 1950 to 1952, he helped provide anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defence, which included escorting an aircraft carrier flying strikes into North Korea.

Following active duty, Richard served another five years with the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve. Subsequently, he worked for the Maritime Council of Premiers in the Nova Scotia government, and as head of the residence at St. Mary’s University. In 1981, he and Mary Patricia, his wife of almost 50 years, established Cumberland County Knitters, a cottage industry that manufactured hand-knit sweaters and fashion accessories.

While Richard’s naval career was filled with drama, one of the highlights of his life took place in 2017 when he soared over Niagara Falls by helicopter with his grandson Joe as part of the Sunnybrook Veterans Grant a Wish, a program made possible by donor support. Viewing Niagara Falls from the air had been a life-long dream of his. "As children, the Falls were always an attraction for us. The ride lasted just 12 minutes, but for me, it was the trip of a lifetime."

His "can do" attitude and leadership abilities still characterize Richard at age 92 (as of 2020). As a resident in Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, he’s enjoying sharing stories and memories with his fellow Veterans, but he lives very much in the present. In 2017, he was elected president of the Veteran and Community Residents’ Council. What’s more, that year he was also featured on the Toronto Star front page as one of three Veteran bearers of the Invictus flag.

Richard's adventure continues, this time in service of his fellow Veterans with whom he shares his youthful spirit and love of life. "The war was exciting, but right now is just as exciting," he exclaims. He is visibly moved when expressing his gratitude to Sunnybrook Veterans Centre for the outstanding care he has received. In 2017, Richard said "We’re 475 of the most privileged people in Canada. We’re treated like royalty every day."

Marion Sawers
Marion Sawers (nee Ritchie)
Canadian Women's Army Corps
Marion Sawers

Born and raised in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, Marion had been teaching in Nova Scotia from 1937-1944 after graduation from Normal College. In 1944, however, Marion decided to sign up with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. She had hoped that she would be assigned overseas, somewhere like London, England. Along with 45 other CWACs, Marion attended basic training at Camp Borden, Ontario.

Since Marion had previously been a teacher, the army made use of her teaching skills giving her the job of instructing CWACs as clerks and clerk stenographers, as well as classes in Canadian Military Law, etc., in Ottawa.

At the cessation of hostilities, Marion was appointed to the Medical Headquarters where she was employed as a statistician on war injuries under Colonel Crawford. She particularly worked on statistics on Canadian prisoners of war with the Japanese, one of whom had been Colonel Crawford himself. A very memorable event from this work was a gathering together of the Japanese prisoners of war who were on their way to Tokyo to partake in the Japanese war crimes trials. Marion and others met them all as a group at the CWAC Sergeant’s Mess. This can best be described as a happy event as these men were survivors, but it was also the most traumatic event that Marion ever attended, knowing these men’s stories.

Marion was demobilized from the military after her time at the Medical Headquarters. Shortly thereafter, she married John Sawers who was in the Canadian Intelligence Corps at the time. John and Marion had 65 years of marriage, lived in four Canadian cities but resided mostly in Ottawa, where they raised their two daughters. They retired to their home in the country near Portland, Ontario, and also enjoyed their time travelling to many countries over the years. John was admitted to Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in the last months of his life, passing away in 2012, and a year later, Marion came to live at Sunnybrook. She still enjoys activities such as Art Therapy and cooking classes, but Marion’s favourite place is out in the lovely garden area at Sunnybrook. Marion is 104 as of September, 2021.

Jean Vanwart
Jean Vanwart
Canadian Women's Army Corps
Jean Vanwart

Jean joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC) in 1943, in Ottawa and didn’t tell her parents because she was afraid they would disapprove. It turns out, when her Dad found out, he was so proud of her that he had her picture put in the local paper in Huntington, Quebec.

“Basic training was where I learned discipline - to march seven or ten miles, to have our army cot stripped, bedding rolled, shoes and buttons shined and to be on parade at 7a.m sharp. I also learned how to assemble and wear gas masks and how to shoot 303 rifles,” says Jean.

After a couple of days' leave to say goodbye to family and friends, she boarded a troop train to Halifax harbour. There were 70 CWAC and thousands of soldiers. They marched up the gang plank and into the beautiful luxury liner – the Aquitania, stripped of all her luxuries.

She carried all of our own equipment – a huge kit bag, a haversack, a regulation purse, and orders as to who we were and what unit we were with. Once on board she realized there was no turning back. They were on our way to the greatest adventure of their lives!

All CWAC personnel were kept in a group with escorts and guards. They were billeted in a huge state room lined with army cots. Because the portholes were covered, they enjoyed the luxury of air-conditioning. The bathroom had showers but the water was sea water and we couldn't get any lather from the soap. Such was army life!

The troop ships travelled in convoy. She’ll never forget the night they had orders to remain in full uniform and to wear our life jackets. “The ship engines were turned off and no one was allowed to make a sound. The silence was deafening. All lights were extinguished. We were terrified,” remembered Jean. “There was an enemy submarine in the vicinity and if it located our convoy, we would be torpedoed and sunk. Many prayers were silently said. Toward dawn, the engines began to hum. The enemy was gone and we continued on our way.”

After seven days at sea, they arrived at Grenock, Scotland and from there travelled by train to Aldershot, England, the oldest army base in history. After a few weeks Jean was allocated to her permanent base which was in in Farnborough, 30 miles south of London.

Planes roared overhead – Spitfires high in the sky and Lancasters flying in formation below them like our migrating geese. Broken formations when the planes were returning from their missions meant some had been lost in action or taken as prisoners of war.

Jean was sent overseas as a Clerk Typist and was placed in the medical surveys unit. Across the street was the transport headquarters where the staff and duty cars travelled all over England. Realizing that she was missing a great opportunity to see the country, she transferred to the driving unit. Driving on the opposite side of the road in blackouts and fog was hazardous but exciting.

Returning to the depot after a back injury, Jean noticed a new driver to the unit – Elgin Vanwart. It was love at first sight. “Little did I know, we would be married for 71 years!!”

“It took a lot of courage to stick it out over there and we couldn't let our emotions get the better of us,” says Jean. “We eventually became accustomed to the steady vibrations of the planes, day and night. One night, we were at a lecture and a bomber came directly over our building. We were paralyzed with fear. Lucky for us, the bomb landed in a field behind us. There were no casualties.”

“During my three years in England, I saw the devastation that war can cause,” Jean shared. “There were rolls of barbed wire everywhere; London was literally full of holes from the continuous bombing. There were miles of cots set up in the subways for those who had lost their homes. The English were very brave and I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend time with them.”

After the war, officers arranged it so that Elgin and Jean could come home on the same ship. After they were married in 1946, they started a family – Marion, Sandra and Bill, all of whom have lived rich and interesting lives.

“The heartbeat of the army will always be with us – a part of us. We lived for today because tomorrow was an unwritten script – a dot on the edge of eternity. We were lucky – for all those young men and women who never made it home, our hearts still bleed, but if we could do it all again – we would.”

Both Jean and Elgin have called the Veterans Centre home. Elgin sadly passed away in 2017. Jean is now 102 year of age, as of 2021.

About Operation raise a flag

Sunnybrook officially opened our doors 75 years ago in 1948 as a war Veterans' hospital; a place to care for heroes.

Today, as the largest Veterans care facility in the country, in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada, we are honoured to provide the best cognitive, physical, mental health and stroke care to over 200 Canadian Veterans of the Second World War, Korean War and the Cold War.

What is the Raise a Flag campaign?

As the largest Veterans’ care facility in Canada, we offer long term and complex hospital care for Veterans.

In honour of this Remembrance Day, Operation Raise a Flag will help raise funds in support of the Veterans program at Sunnybrook.

Please consider making a donation in honour of our Veterans. With your support, 30,000 flags will be planted around the Sunnybrook campus for Remembrance Day as a symbol of honour and appreciation. In addition, we will continue to honour the contributions made by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Veterans in service to Canada by including artwork designed by Indigenous artist, Philip Cote.

Where does my money go?

It is the mission of the Veterans Centre to assist each and every resident to achieve their best possible life experience while they are at Sunnybrook. Your gift will help Sunnybrook Veterans Centre provide the very best cognitive, physical, mental health and stroke care to over 200 Canadian Veterans. We believe our brave Veterans deserve nothing less.

This year, your generous contribution will help provide new state of the art gym and library facilities at the Veterans Centre as Sunnybrook continually strives to deliver exceptional care.

Download our Veterans Impact Report to read about the difference your donation makes.

How can I make a donation?

Click to Donate here
Telephone: 1-866-696-2008
Mail in your donation: Sunnybrook Foundation, 2075 Bayview Avenue, KGW01, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

When you generously donate $500 or more to Operation Raise a Flag, we will send you the new keepsake book The Last Salute as a token of our thanks.

How much are flags?

Every donation will raise a flag.

Will I receive a tax receipt?

Yes. If you order your flag online, a tax receipt will be issued immediately to the email address provided.

If you order through the mail, a tax receipt will be placed in the mail and received within 10 business days.

Can I purchase a flag for my mother, father, etc.?

Yes, you can. However, the tax receipt will be made out to the individual making the donation.

How long will flags remain on the lawn?

We cannot guarantee the lifespan of these paper flags. Weather permitting, the flags will remain on the lawn throughout Remembrance Day and will be removed the morning of November 13th.

What will happen to the flags after Remembrance Day?

Flags are collected and recycled.

Where are the flags manufactured?

The flags are manufactured in Ontario and purchased from a local retail vendor — The Flag Shop.

Can I dedicate my flag to a particular Veteran?

The flags will be planted on the grounds and messages provided when making a donation will be combined for the Veterans. If there is a specific Veteran that you wish to honour, we will do our best to pass the message along to him/her.

Can I keep my flag?

This is not possible as the flags are not personalized and are planted all together.

How can I volunteer?

Thank you for your interest in volunteering with Operation Raise a Flag.

You can volunteer on November 10 and help plant 30,000 Canadian and Indigenous artwork flags on the Sunnybrook grounds creating a patriotic sea of red and white. Our Veterans will awaken on Remembrance Day knowing that you care about their great sacrifice.

Registration opens soon!

How will the flags be planted on Sunnybrook Campus this year?

This year, we are pleased to invite back volunteers from our community, Sunnybrook staff, and a group from the Canadian military to plant the flags to ensure the Veterans are honoured for their service.

What is the meaning behind the Indigenous artwork?

The artwork was created by Philip Cote, an Indigenous artist, activist, educator, historian, cultural advisor and Ancestral Knowledge Keeper from Moose Deer Point First Nation. Citing all of his ancestry, he is Shawnee, Lakota, Potawatomi, Ojibway, Algonquin and Mohawk.

Philip created this drawing to commemorate the long tradition of service and sacrifices in war of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people of Canada. Each element of the flag is rich in symbolism. The buffalo represents Indigenous ancestors and another nation, indicating we are in a circle connected together on the same level. The medicine wheel is divided into four colours, where the buffalo sits in the west, the turtle in the east, the eagle in the south and the bear in the north. The east is where the sun rises, so that represents the beginning of life.

The magnificent crimson colours of the poppies are also significant as they symbolize sacred fire, a common aspect of Remembrance Day ceremonies. During these ceremonies, people are invited to say a few words for their ancestors, the ones that fought in war. An offering is made along with offering thanks for their deeds.

Learn more about Philip and his artwork.