Canadians...on the Highway of Heroes

Canada is a large country with a small population. Perhaps that's why we can afford to acknowledge every single fallen soldier. I think, though, we would do it regardless of our size and regardless of how many are lost.

The Ontario Department of Highways has designated the road from Toronto to Trenton the "Highway of Heroes". It is a segment of Canada's largest transportation artery known officially as the MacDonald-Cartier Highway or unofficially as "the 401" as we natives call it. It is also the path a soldier's body (repatriated casualty, if you like euphemisms) takes as his hearse travels from the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton to Toronto for the official autopsy and his family is allowed to travel with it. You know who else goes along? These people:

The Highway of Heroes and the people who line the overpasses on this route honour our fallen servicemen by acknowledging them and their family as they pass by on their solemn journey. Since 2002 when our first soldiers began returning from Afghanistan, crowds have lined the overpasses and shoulders and as the convoys pass by they wave flags or hands or salute.

The highway is closed while this convoy makes its way to Toronto and people are perfectly OK with that.

Traffic in the far lanes stopped as the motorcade accesses the 401 on ramp

What I don't understand is why other countries do not do this. President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the country's hidden and heartless U. S. casualty repatriation policy. At the time of this writing, dead American soldiers return home to a camera ban at the air base and are hustled off without ceremony to the mortuary and onward to burial. If you see a photo of a flag draped coffin of a US soldier it is most likely unauthorized. [source]

From an NBC News program Veteran's Day 2008 with Brian Williams. Thank you to Anon in comments for suggesting the video.

Whether you are patriotic or not, whether you support war or not, these people died doing what they believed was right and they have left behind grieving family and friends. Why is this not something to esteem? Why not show the grieving family that their son or daughter and their sacrifice is valued? What's to hide?

Take the journey on the Highway of Heroes and imagine it is your son or daughter whose life is being honoured by strangers. It gives me chills. (I apologize for the Amazing Grace soundtrack. That gives me chills of a different kind, but you can always play with the sound off)

More on the Highway of Heroes in an article here and more here.

The concept of overpass sentinels was a spur of the moment improvisation. No formal invites were issued and no ads were aired calling for people to line up and support the motorcade. It started with a few people feeling the need to be there and it's grown into something that inspires pride.

Canadian band The Trews composed a song called appropriately "Highway of Heroes". If they look like they're feeling the song, they are. It was inspired by the 2006 death of Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female soldier killed in Afghanistan and a schoolmate of members of Trews. The song was made available on iTunes in Canada only, with all proceeds from the sales of the song going to the Canadian Hero Fund, a charity that provides academic scholarships to the spouses and children of soldiers killed in combat. If I'm understanding the lyrics correctly, it's sung from the point of view of a repatriated casualty.

Carry me home down The Highway of Heroes.
People above with their flags flying low.
Carry me softly, down The Highway of Heroes.
True Patriot Love,
There was never more.

[soft toned dj late night voice] Ladies and Gentlemen, The Trews, from Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Next up we'll be kicking things low down with Canadians...on the Highway of Tears...


Anonymous said...

worth a watch

Frimmy said...

Thank you Anon! I will post this on the main page.

Noelle said...

Nice story. I don't know why we hide our fallen soldiers. They offer a pile of excuses none of them good.

Frimmy said...

Do you think it's because it would be bad for morale to admit there are casualties? I understand the strategy behind that but to me honouring the fallen soldier and their loved ones seems even more of a boost to morale.


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