Monday, April 20, 2009

O Canada, they stand on guard for you

There's something of a phenomenon taking place in Ontario. It occurs regularly, along the route of highway that stretches from Trenton to the Office of the Coroner in downtown Toronto, as soldiers’ fallen bodies return from Afghanistan.

What began as a grassroots display of support, has become an overwhelming recurrent show of appreciation, respect, and love for fellow Canadian. Even American networks, which tend to keep their news coverage American-centric, dropped a video lens into this curious stretch of highway that has now been officially dedicated, “The Highway of Heroes." Highway 401 is known as Canada's busiest highway, but as you learn of the familiar procession that travels underneath 50 overpass bridges, you begin to secretly wish it were a road a little "less traveled by."

Photo courtesy of Amber Hogaboam

I recently had the honour of covering the procession for fallen Trooper Karine Blais as her young body was repatriated. This is not the celebratory reunion her family would have hoped for as she joins the 116 voluntary soldier sacrifices that came before her. But if one has to die, I can’t imagine a better memorial service than the one Canadians give their soldiers each time they return from a devastating and final fall from mortality.

Red, white and maple leaf drape the highway overpasses in sombre regard. Police officers, RCMP, and firemen stand erect and salute as the procession passes by. Ordinary citizens gather from far and wide to let the families of the soldiers know they are not alone in the mourning of their loved one. Often times, words fail in situations like these, but in this case, words are not needed. And there’s no uncomfortable silence either—just thousands of Canadians coming together in solemn support. You find yourself catching your breath and clutching your heart as you bear witness to it all.

This American has never seen Canada look so lovely.

After the procession ended, the ordinary citizens left as quickly as they came. One by one, and two by two’s they went. At first, I wondered to myself why they didn’t linger. I wanted to gather more interviews for our upcoming program, “News You Need,” to gain insight into this impromptu human wonder. But then it hit me. The grave realization that they would be back again. Why hang around when you know you’ll be returning for Soldier 118; yet unnamed, but already a hero in their hearts.

Rikki Ratliff is the Associate Producer and Reporter for Listen Up TV