Retreat for vets sees a busy year

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More than a year ago, Afghanistan veteran Tyson Bowen set out to create a safe space for himself and other veterans to enjoy the outdoors, connect with loved ones and each other, and recover from any mental trauma or mental illness they may have from their time in combat. Since then, Bowen has accomplished a great deal of work on the large farm with a lot of help from the community and even held his first few get-togethers on the property.

Bowen’s plan still includes creating a lodge type space on the property in Lorne now called Real Canadian Recreation and he is still working hard on that goal, although some setbacks have come up in the last year.

“Unfortunately we had to tear down the old barn… the foundation was no good,” he said of the century-old building he was hoping he would be able to repair and rebuild into a headquarters of sorts. Although the original building will not be able to be used, Bowen did save parts of the building — such as beams — that he hopes to incorporate into the new structure. As well as the old barn coming down he was able to remove old cattle equipment to clean up the space and install some new windows that were donated by Peter Kohler Windows and Doors.

As well as structural improvements, Bowen received fish from Nova Scotia Aquaculture to stock the pond for veterans to fish in and also purchased 12 sets of camping gear using a wellness grant and erecting an A-frame tent structure as a test for future ones around the farm.

Donations and community support have been a big part of the success of the park so far he shared, mentioning that companies such as Peter Kohler donating windows, Balodis Construction donating a large trailer, machine work, and operator use from S.W. Weeks and Maritime Design for help with the memorial have all played a part in Real Canadian Recreation’s success. He has also held successful work weekends at the farm that brought in community members to help out with some of the work and meet others in the community.

This fall, although COVID-19 guidelines ruled against social gatherings, with so much room on the large farm, Bowen held his first of what he hopes to be an annual Rec Fest, which will be named in memory of one of his military friends, Herman Williams, who died of suicide.

“We were able to have a good turnout and raise a bit of money,” Bowen said. He is looking forward to making it an annual fundraiser featuring food trucks, music, and more. Trailers were also available onsite for any veterans who felt overwhelmed or anxious from the noise, crowd or other triggers as a place to decompress and relax.

One of the features of the park that Bowen is most proud of is the memorial he has been working to create as his own version of the Masum Ghar memorial in Afghanistan which was buried after Canadian troops left the country. The memorial was in the shape of a large Canadian flag and had painted rocks with the name of each of the Canadian soldiers that were killed in combat. Bowen has been busy painting rocks for his memorial in hopes to have it finished for Remembrance Day. He shares that he believes that the number of suicides of war veterans has surpassed the number of actual combat deaths at this point, proving that spaces such as his and mental health help are needed for veterans.

The next gathering Bowen will be having at the RCR farm will be a Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11 for veterans and families of veterans. Due to COVID-19 public health guidelines, attendees have to be spaced but Bowen shared that as RCR is an organization he is allowed to have more people in attendance, and with a farm as large as his space is of no shortage for those attending.

“It’ll be quick and simple,” said Bowen about the service, adding that any veterans who wish to speak will be permitted to do so. Afterward, he is inviting attendees to stick around and take a look at the work he has been doing.