Inspired by Matthew: Valerie and Shannon McGrady
The mother-daughter duo advocated for Orangeville’s new Bravery Park – which honours all military personnel, including their late son and brother.
Mother-daughter duo Valerie and Shannon McGrady are nothing if not persistent.
This magazine’s readers have met Valerie before, when she and her son Corporal Matthew McCully were featured as Local Heroes in 2008. Matthew, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, had been killed in Afghanistan in 2007 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.
More than a dozen years later, on a sunny morning early this past September, a socially distanced crowd gathered on the grounds of the Alder Street Recreation Centre in Orangeville to dedicate Bravery Park. The event culminated more than a decade of community work, led by Valerie, Shannon and a dedicated committee, to establish a site honouring military personnel both at home and around the world.
It was an impressive affair. There was an 85-member military parade, and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds did a flyover in “Missing Man” formation. Among a long list of VIPs, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell spoke, as did Master Corporal (Retired) Jody Mitic, who lost both legs below the knee in Afghanistan and was Matthew’s tent mate in Kabul.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Peter Prakke, who originated the concept of Bravery Parks and worked closely with the Orangeville committee, both as a major donor and adviser. Though Orangeville’s park is not the first in Canada to be named Bravery Park, it is the first to feature custom installations honouring the military.
The park features a bronze sculpture of a soldier receiving a butterfly from two children. Designed by local artists Donna Pascoe and Peter Turrell, the sculpture is the centrepiece of a walkway that depicts the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour. There are also a memorial stone, an art installation, memorial benches and the Canadian flag. The Amaranth Lions Club funded a children’s playground, and the Dufferin County Cultural Resource Circle contributed a medicine wheel garden.
Valerie and Shannon make an important distinction between Orangeville’s cenotaph and Bravery Park. “Matt’s name is on the cenotaph, which honours all fallen soldiers, and the cenotaph is where my family spends every Remembrance Day remembering my brother,” says Shannon. “But what about all the people who didn’t die on a mission? The Canadian Forces have lost more people to suicide than they did in Afghanistan. The park is intended to create awareness of currently serving soldiers and veterans, and to bring attention to – and support for – their struggles and sacrifices.”
Valerie adds, “We wanted all soldiers to be acknowledged, not just those who died.”
Both women stress their gratitude for the support they received, both at the time of Matthew’s death and over the long course of developing Bravery Park. The Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs Canada were pivotal, but the town, local businesses, community groups and individuals also came forward, contributing to the $200,000 fundraising goal, donating materials or simply offering goodwill.
Asked what Matt would think of all this, Valerie says, “I think Matt would be very proud. And shocked at our persistence! I also think it’s only fitting that his legacy will go on.”
Attesting to her mother’s resilience in the face of tragedy, Shannon says, “Mom didn’t just go on, she did something huge. I think she’s the epitome of bravery.”
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