There are many uniquely Canadian things that surely go unappreciated in the States. For example: the concept of poutine (gravy on fries?), Royal Canadian Mounties (hot!), expertly paved roads and although they hate it, niceness beyond compare. However, there is one thing uniquely Canadian that I recently had the pleasure of traveling down. It’s called the Highway of Heroes.
What is the Highway of Heroes, you ask? Highway 401, or “the 401” as it’s colloquially known here, is the I-10 equivalent in Canada that runs across the country, coast to coast and is also allegedly North America’s busiest freeway. The 401 runs from Canadian Force Base (CFB) Trenton into Toronto and is routinely lined with civilians and veterans as the body of each fallen Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan makes its way home during repatriation. The families of the soldiers are taken by limousine along the route as citizens pay their respects to the soldiers. Sadly, I’ve seen the Highway of Heroes in action three times since I moved here. In fact, it seems to be such a moving experience that NBC News recently ran a feature on it during their Veterans/Remembrance Day coverage.
It’s not often that you witness something for the first time and find yourself being moved to tears. Recently, on a snowy winter evening, I was driving home on the Don Valley Parkway and noticed that people were standing along the sides with flags and people all over the bridges. There were firetrucks with firemen standing atop saluting and ambulances with paramedics doing the same. They were on every single bridge — every one. Being the “girl about town” photographer I like to pretend I am, I quickly grabbed my camera, steered with my knees and took as many pics as I could without crashing into my fellow drivers. Of course, only one turned out clearly, but you get the gist.
It’s a grassroots phenomenon that takes place and has just grown among ordinary people; I find it fascinating. The kind of unified and public show of respect along the repatriation route is unusual in the world today. As far as I know, it doesn’t happen in the States; it doesn’t happen in the United Kingdom. And I think that’s what so fascinating — the fact that none of it was organized by anyone except, perhaps, by each person’s own heart to go and do it.
One of the plethora of reasons I love Canada. Lest we forget.