TORONTO — A group of Canadians took a grimly familiar route Saturday in honour of those soldiers who have died in Canada from wounds sustained in Afghanistan.
A convoy of red cars followed by a long procession of motorcycles made its way from CFB Trenton, Ont., to Toronto — the route along the “Highway of Heroes” normally used when soldiers killed in Afghanistan are repatriated.
Among those in the procession were relatives of Cpl. Darren James Fitzpatrick, 21, who died in an Edmonton hospital from blast injuries suffered in the war-torn country.
“It’s overwhelming to see the support, and that’s why we’re here to pay respects to our son and all the fallen troops,” said Colleen Fitzpatrick, of Prince George, B.C., mother of the deceased soldier.
“It’s been an amazing day.”
Organizer Randy Young called the event a way to show respect for the soldiers, and a chance for relatives to take part in a procession they hadn’t had a chance to participate in.
“It came to our attention that the Fitzpatrick family didn’t have the chance to go down the Highway of Heroes and feel the love of Canadians,” Young said.
“So we made it a possibility.”
As with other soldier deaths, people stood on bridges over Highway 401 to watch the procession and show their support.
Caroline Newell, whose son is stationed at CFB Petawawa, Ont., said she had hoped to see bigger crowds out.
“I’m a little disappointed,” she said from an overpass just east of Toronto where about a dozen people had gathered.
“I wish there were a lot more people on the bridge here.”
The procession did not get an official escort but that didn’t stop enthusiastic motorists from waving and cheering.
Bill Pound said he was driving by when he saw others on the overpass, and decided to join them to show his support for the troops.
“It’s really important — these young men are giving their lives,” Pound said.
“More people need to show that we do support them and their families.”
After arriving in Toronto, the rally headed to Downsview Park for a closing ceremony.
Fitzpatrick was on his first operational tour and had been treated at the base in Kandahar and a medical centre in Germany before being flown to the Edmonton hospital where he died March 20.
“Words don’t seem to be enough to thank Canada for their support honouring the fallen soldiers,” said his father, Jim Fitzpatrick.
Another soldier, Master Cpl. Charles-Philippe Michaud, 28, of Edmundston, N.B., died in Quebec City on July 4, 2009, from injuries sustained from a landmine while on foot patrol in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan two weeks earlier.
Since 2002, 146 members of the Canadian Forces and two civilians have died as part of the mission to Afghanistan.
Fitzpatrick and Michaud were among them.
Funds raised from Saturday’s event are to be used to let teachers and students across the country know about Friends of Veterans Canada’s National Video-A-Veteran Contest, Young said.