A Quesnel couple recently received a prestigious honour for the work they have done, and continue to do, to support veterans and serving members of the military.
Governor General Julie Payette presented Paul and Terry Nichols with Meritorious Service Medals (Civil Division) during a ceremony Feb. 28 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. They are two of 48 Canadians who were honoured that day, and two of four recipients of Meritorious Service Medals in the Civil Division.
Recognized for “their excellence, courage and exceptional service to the Canadian Armed Forces and to various military organizations,” 48 recipients were presented with Meritorious Service Decorations in the Military Division and the Civil Division, Decorations for Bravery or the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
“I felt very honoured to be among that group of recipients because when we heard people’s stories and looked around the room, it was amazing to be thought of in the same regard as the other incredible people who were there,” says Terry.
“The thing that really stands out for me is that this wasn’t a typical Meritorious Service Decoration ceremony,” says Paul.
“They mixed the Civil and the Military Meritorious Service [Decorations] presentations, but they kept the theme as military or civilians actively supporting serving military, and it brought the two groups together. It really helped confirm for me that we’re on the right track – and that wasn’t so much because of the medal presentation, but the networking and the conversations we had afterward.”
Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) are given to recognize remarkable contributions in many different fields of endeavour, from advocacy initiatives and health care services, to research and humanitarian efforts, according to the Governor General’s website. Recipients are nominated for the honour by fellow Canadians.
The citation for Paul and Terry reads: “After struggling to come to terms with his experience while serving on a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia, military veteran Paul Nichols found healing through equine-assisted therapy. He and his wife, Terry, organized The Ride Across Canada, a 211-day trek on horseback that offered local veterans the opportunity to experience the positive effects of equine therapy while connecting with Canadians along the way. Drawing from the ride’s success, the Nichols now offer specialized, equine-assisted mindfulness therapy to veterans at their home ranch in B.C.’s Cariboo region.”
The Nicholses founded the Communities for Veterans Foundation in 2014 and completed The Ride Across Canada in 2015, with the goal of bridging the gap between civilian and military cultures and creating awareness about contemporary veterans in Canada. They have been developing an Equine Assisted Mindfulness program for veterans at Pen-Y-Bryn Farm in Kersley and are currently preparing to offer The Forge Programs, residential therapy programs incorporating Equine Assisted Mindfulness that are designed to support and treat people experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Operational Stress Injuries, this spring and summer.
“It helped reinforce that we’re on the right path and we’re doing work that is important and needs to be done,” Terry says of the honour.
“After people had heard our story, then we heard so much appreciation from the members of the military who were there.”
Rob LaFrance is a member of an organization that supported the Nicholses’ nomination and describes Paul and Terry as “very giving people that do not ask or expect anything in return with whatever they are doing.”
“I live in the community of Quesnel and feel so very proud that Paul and Terry live in my community,” he says.
“I have supported Paul and Terry with their Ride Across Canada from the beginning through moral support and fundraising, as it is amazing to see veterans show up at Pen-Y-Bryn Farm. The veterans don’t arrive demanding or expecting anything, just wanting some assistance with PTSD. To see the transition of when the veterans arrive to partway through their visit and to when they leave – you don’t see any fireworks or material things, but you can see a positive change in the veterans.
“Paul and Terry just want to help the veterans and make a difference. Even when veterans make contact and want to participate in the program but have no way of paying for transportation, Paul and Terry try to find a way to find funding or transportation so they can help the veterans.”
Terry and Paul flew to Ottawa to receive their medals in a formal ceremony at Rideau Hall, the official residence and workplace of the governor general, and they were both very grateful to have a chance experience the history and tradition at Rideau Hall and to share that with their family members who have been there from the beginning.
“Terry and I received the medals for it, but there’s no way we could have achieved what we did with the Ride and the work we continue to do and work with veterans [alone],” says Paul, adding it was “incredible” to have their daughters and their partners with him.
“That was the most special part for me, having our group together,” says Terry.
Paul and Terry were both impressed by Julie Payette, who was installed as the 29th governor general of Canada Oct. 2, 2017.
“I was quite taken with the governor general,” comments Terry.
“She had a soft-spoken voice for her speeches, but she was so poised and had the audience captured with her really thoughtful words.”
“She’s a pretty powerful woman, and it’s not because she’s loud,” says Paul.
“She has this amazing ability to set the crowd at ease, and you hang on her every word.”