A few years ago, back in the original form of the Darth Obvious website, I wrote this article after a rather remarkable drive home from my parents place in Whitby. When the old obvious site when down I feared it was lost…but went hunting for it with Remembrance Day passing a few days ago (that’s what we call it up here to my American friends). It’s a few days late…and perhaps a bit selfish to want to share it, but this was one of the most moving moments I’d experienced when I did this drive…so I hope you’ll indulge me on a trip down memory lane. Many will have read this back in the day but…I feel that even as our armed forces return from Afghanistan, and thankfully no soldier has taken a trip down this highway in a long time….we must never forget their sacrifice. This still makes me proud to be a Canadian.
This was written circa 2009 or so.
In the past week, Canada has lost four more servicemen in the line of duty in Afghanistan. Last Friday, three of them returned home and took the long road to Toronto as their final trip before being laid to rest. For a long time now, highway 401 has become an impromptu route for regular Canadians to salute these heroes…and on this day I happened to be a half hour ahead of the motorcade…and even being a half hour ahead…it was an incredible experience.
By now you’ve all seen it on TV. A few days after we hear the terrible news of another soldier being lost in the line of duty, they return to Canada and begin the long drive to Toronto from Trenton. Along the way, every overpass on the 401 and Don Valley Parkway has been lined with those who wish to pay their respects. It’s something that we, as Canadians, can feel a special pride about. Regular Canucks, taking their own time to just offer their thanks and sorrow for the loss of these brave people who did what many of us can never dream of doing.
It wasn’t something that began with a national holiday, or special interest movement, or an outcry of protest. It just started quietly, first reported in the Toronto Sun in 2007 as a phenomenon that was slowly growing. Men, women and children lining bridges over the highway to offer their respect. Firefighters, police officers, ambulance personnel, even other soldiers not overseas would stand and offer their salutes for this final sacrifice that was made by the best our country had to offer. The Highway of Heroes was born not of politicians…but of us…Canadians who wanted to show they cared.
No matter what you thought of the “war against terror” this was something universal. Respect and honour for those who have served. Seeing it on TV, with the flags flying, is something that strikes a chord when you realize these people wait hours to just salute our fallen countrymen and women, as the convoys speed by below…barely getting a few seconds to see them before they continue on their somber trip to the coroner’s office in Toronto.
We all have a stake in listening whenever news of another soldier being lost comes across the news. We can’t help but pause and hope that the name we hear isn’t one we know. We hear at the obvious know someone serving over there…so we keep our ears open…and we hope.
Thankfully, our friend is safe as far as we all know and we keep hoping that not only does he stay safe, but that no other soldiers have to take this trip on the highway that has become named after them. But this past Friday I was in Oshawa doing some work for a client on the day that 3 lost young men were going to be taking that trip. I had just finished a quick visit with my family and was heading down Brock St. in Whitby to hit the 401 when for the first time…those sights on the TV became very real.
I had of course been listening to 680 News all day and knew the convoy was coming down around 3pm, but I had expected to be on my way home well before it was coming in.. To my surprise I ended up being only a half hour ahead of it. Coming upon the overpass of Brock St. over the 401 I found a crowd that made me proud to be a Canadian in way I haven’t felt in years. Here were Canadians of all ages, retirees, mom’s and dad’s with their kids, teens who had left school early on a warm March day to stand for a few hours, just waiting. They had signs of respect and flags of all sizes already on display. And they weren’t just standing silently as they waited. They were talking to each other. You could see sorrow in some, pride in others…and yes, I saw all this as I was sitting at a red light waiting to get onto the on ramp for the highway.
It was quite moving and I’ll admit to brushing away a tear of sorrow for the families of those men…but also of pride for what we as Canadians can do for people we’ve never known.
So I thought I knew what to expect as I began to drive home…Brock St. in Whitby is apparently one of the larger gathering points…so I expected just a few people on the other bridges between Whitby and the Don Valley Parkway (which heads south into downtown TO for those who don’t know). Was I in for a surprise. Salem, Harwood, Brock Rd. in Pickering, to Morningside, and perhaps the largest crowd at Victoria Park just before the DVP, there were dozens and dozens of people at each bridge. Emergency personnel already there, waiting for them. And what I couldn’t get over was the number of kids that were waiting as I drove under each bridge.
You have to be proud…not just of those Canadians who take the time. But of the men and women who serve for all of us.
I know full well that I could never be in the military…and not just for the obvious reasons of physical limitations. Can you imagine me trying to fit into a life that is THAT structured? Despite that I have always had the highest respect for those who chose to serve in our armed forces, and I have always thought that despite our military’s small size and lack of equipment…we still have some of the best soldiers in the world.
Seeing how we Canadians respond in the face of the tragedy of losing some of these men and women reminds me of something else.
Despite all our faults…we Canucks are the best of the world as well.
Forgive the indulgence…but take a moment when our latest casualty returns home later this week. He and his family deserve our respect and best wishes.
These years later we haven’t had to endure and respect a trip on that highway in a long time. We hope it stays that way…but we know that as the world turns, at some point our best will need to serve once more. We will honour them when they do and as they continue to now. So a few days late…my thanks and Remembrance to all who served.