Remembering Operation SNOWGOOSE

Military members and civilians post for a photo next a memorial.
7 June, 2018. Nicosia, Cyprus. Captain Soo Choi (far right) poses for a photo next to the Canadian memorial along with military and civilian members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, as well as the Canadian Ambassador to Greece and High Commissioner to Cyprus, and the United Kingston High Commissioner to Cyprus. Operation SNOWGOOSE

By Captain Soo Kyong Choi, Commander of Task Force Cyprus, Operation SNOWGOOSE

For the contemporary soldier, Cyprus is most frequently associated with relaxation and recovery on return from deployments to Afghanistan. However, it also shares a rich history with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Originally deployed to quell interethnic violence in 1964 with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, a battalion-sized Canadian contingent remained in Cyprus for a further 29 years. The Canadians conducted a full spectrum of operations from peacekeeping to major combat. During their tenure, the Canadians distinguished themselves with their ingenuity, impartiality, and professionalism with several members being decorated for bravery for courageous actions in 1974. Twenty-eight Canadian soldiers paid the ultimate price on this island in the defence of peace.

The stories of notable Canadian actions live on today.

With opposing forces often positioned just metres away from one another, Canadians maintained a balancing act between the two sides to prevent a reescalation. When a sleeping soldier was killed with a bayonet affixed on a long stick, the other side retaliated with petrol bombs. Canadian peacekeepers rushed in between, deescalating the situation and preventing further violence.

A primary duty was to ensure that the two opposing forces did not improve their positions and gain a military advantage. The Canadians found that a position was continually being moved forward under the cover of darkness. The opposing force commander was reluctant to demolish it as it would cause him to lose face. To rectify the situation, the Canadians came to the agreement that would satisfy both sides. They used a Grizzly Armoured Personnel Carrier, a vehicle wider than the patrol track in the area, to drive through. This destroyed the position in question. The remains became known as Grizzly Bunker.

Among these stories of action and conflict resolution are stories of compassion. When the Buffer Zone was drawn, a woman named Annie refused to leave her home that was inside the now forbidden area. Rather than uproot her, Canadian peacekeepers escorted her when she needed to go into town, allowing her to continue living in her home. This quickly became a close relationship between the Canadians and Annie. When she passed away, having been alienated from her family, it was Canadian peacekeepers who organized and paid for her funeral; it was attended by leaders from both sides of Cyprus.

Twenty-five years ago, at midnight on June 15, 1993, the battalion-sized Canadian contingent conducted their last patrol with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. They handed over their duties to British and Austrian Peacekeepers and scaled their contribution to one position in the headquarters. The name of their area of operations, Sector 3, retired with them. Today, the sectors are named 1, 2, and 4, in honour of their service.

Today, the Buffer Zone remains much as it did in 1974, albeit significantly aged. Canadian soldiers’ names and regiments are etched into the collapsing buildings alongside pock marks from bullets.

The United Nations still patrols the Buffer Zone, liaising between the two opposing forces to maintain peace. The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeth’s Own), a unit associated with Canada’s own Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian), currently patrols the former Canadian area.

On June 7, 2018, the Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeth’s Own) paid tribute to the 28 fallen Canadian peacekeepers by refurbishing a memorial and holding a service.

Image gallery

  • Military members and civilians post for a photo next a memorial.
  • Soldiers wearing blue berets stand at attention around a memorial covered in wreaths and poppies while a padre speaks at the podium.
  • Military members wearing blue berets, and some civilians stand under a tent during a ceremony.
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