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Courthouse renamed to honour war hero

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Durham Region’s courthouse has been renamed in commemoration of one of it’s most prominent war heroes.

The courthouse, 150 Bond Street East, is now named the Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Sharpe, DSO, MP Courthouse.

Local politicians including Durham MPP Lindsey Park, Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, and incumbent Durham MP Erin O’Toole broke party lines to speak at the courthouse.

Ontario attorney general Doug Downey spoke as well.

Downey called Sharpe a Canadian hero, noting he had represented Ontario North in the House of Commons as MP, and was a First World War veteran as part of the Ontario regiment.

Sharpe fought in famous battles such as Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. He was also reelected while serving overseas in 1917.

He was MP from 1908 until he died by suicide in 1918, the year the war came to an end.

After relinquishing his command of the 116th “Ontario County” Battalion, he lost his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“[The courthouse] will honour a man of action and principal,” said Downey. “He represents the best of what it means to be a Canadian. He helped build this region, our province, and our country.”

Downey notes Sharpe is the only MP to ever win an election while overseas fighting in a war.

“He took the sons of families from across this region…, he went overseas, he was fighting on the front line, there were casualties – a lot of them – and he got reelected. That’s just phenomenal,” said Downey.

He explains the number of casualties seen by Sharpe, including many he had recruited himself, took a toll on him.

“It’s a tragedy that the Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe suffered the way he did,” he said.

O’Toole had previously worked to have a bust of Sharpe placed at Parliament in Ottawa. For him, to name the courthouse after Sharpe, a former lawyer, felt right.

“[O’Toole] has worked tirelessly to restore the memory of Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Sharpe,” said Park. “In 2014 he started the first annual Samuel Sharpe memorial breakfast… it brought together parliamentarians, media, military, veterans, and mental health advocates, with the goal of increasing awareness of operational stress injuries from service.”

Himself a veteran, O’Toole said even Sharpe, one of Durham’s most noted citizens, was affected by mental health.

“Mental health issues don’t select certain people or certain groups,” said O’Toole. “Mental wellness and mental health is something we need to talk about because it can impact anyone.”

He believes naming the courthouse after Sharpe, and bringing attention to the way he died, helps to expand the conversation surrounding mental health.

“We need to make sure that first responders, those in the legal profession, those in the military and veteran community, talk about mental health and if they’re hurting, because there are support programs for them now – there were not in Sam’s day, and that’s why he felt isolated and alone,” said O’Toole.