Moving to Canada when her husband joined the Canadian Armed Forces saw military spouse Sue Palmer leave her homeland of Britain to follow her husband’s career to a new country.
Having served with the British Armed Forces before making his move to Canada, Palmer had set herself up with support in Britain by being a member of the British Military Wives’ Choir.
“It brought people together, irrespective of rank and age and backgrounds in a way that I had just never seen before. And I’ve been a military wife for close to 25 years now,” Sue Palmer
When they moved to Canada in 2013, she decided to bring the idea of a military wives’ choir to Canada with her.
Knowing that there were no such choirs in Canada, Palmer sent out feelers before she even arrived. The idea proved to be popular, and in September of 2013, the first Canadian military wives’ choir had its first rehearsal in the National Capital Region.
The choir quickly grew to 30 and then 50 members, and after 18 months military wives in Comox took up the charge and started the second choir. Palmer helped pave the way by sharing music, logo, and even choir uniforms.
From there the idea spread, “and then they started popping up,” Palmer said. There are now 14 choirs across Canada.
Palmer feels the choirs are very beneficial for military families.
“The first and most important benefit,” she says, “is as a support network. The music is very important, but it is really a vehicle to bring people together.”
Palmer noted the choirs are inclusive, and choir members don’t ask about spouse’s husbands.
“If you are female and you have a military connection, you can come along and join. We are there to support one another,” said Palmer.
Members of the choir don’t have to be able to sing or read music to join. In fact, Palmer herself does not read music. Though the choirs do perform at events, like the Invictus Games, choir members don’t have to take part in those performances to be involved.
Palmer noted the choirs give spouses something familiar to look forward to at the different bases and help ease that transition.
“It means that as people move around, there’s somewhere like a soft place to land. So there’s an instant community. There’s continuity because we learned some of the same songs, we have the same constitution, we wear the same uniform. So if you move from one side of the country to the other, then the choir should be something familiar that you can just slot straight into,” explained Palmer.
The choirs have impacted the military community in other ways as well, in that it has shone a light on military spouses in their own right.
“It gives military wives a voice and an identity in the public eye, which is maybe something lacking in the past,” said Palmer.
It is for this reason that Palmer was awarded a Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) commendation from General Jonathan Vance for her work in establishing the choir in Canada.
When it came time to receive her award, Palmer had no idea that it was happening. The award was a complete surprise for her.
“I had no idea until my name was called out by the CDS. I went there under false pretences,” said Palmer. “I thought I was there to witness a friend’s promotion and was told that my husband was getting some sort of pat on the back as well. And they kind of created a story, my devious friends, to get me to have a day off work and go downtown. So I had no clue that it was happening.”
Palmer stresses she has not done it alone.
“There are dozens and dozens and dozens of ladies that have given time selflessly across the country to make the thing what it is now,” she said. “I feel that I’ve accepted this award on behalf of the organization that we’ve created, not for me personally.”
Palmer continues to extend the network of choirs, saying that all you have to do is get in touch with the Canadian Military Wives’ Choir Association if you would like to start up a local choir. “We would love to be at the point where there is a choir at every military base across the country.”
The organization is happy to provide support to help new choirs get established.
For more information, visit the Military Wives’ Choir website.