Much has been written (link) over the past few days about an online petition to rename a stretch of Highway 401, Canada’s most heavily travelled highway, to the “Highway of Heroes” in tribute to our fallen in Afghanistan. The highway is already named ‘The MacDonald-Cartier Freeway’ in honour of two great Canadians but I don’t want to debate this aspect of the issue. As I mentioned, only a portion of the highway is being renamed.
For those not familiar with the story, a quick background. Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton is located approx. 150 kilometres East of Toronto (roughly a hundred miles). When a Canadian Forces member is killed overseas the body is flown back to CFB Trenton where it is then driven by hearse to ‘The Ontario Centre for Forensic Science’ where a post mortem is done and a Death Certificate is issued. The body is then transported to wherever in Canada the family of the deceased is having the burial service – usually through CFB Trenton again.
The hearse drives on Highway 401 to get to Toronto. It is hard to say how or when things started, but Ontario residents have taken to lining the overpasses of the 401 in silent tribute to our fallen as they make their way to Toronto. I live in the area and have seen this incredible sight a number of times. I should also add that a number of people line the fences at CFB Trenton to honour or fallen when they first arrive home.
Earlier this year, when six Canadians (link) killed in Afghan were returned home, I happened to be travelling the 401 about 20 minutes ahead of the six hearses. It was a cold, wet, dark, miserable night. Yet, there were hundreds of people out. Just as poignant, at every overpass were the cruisers of the various police forces that operated along the highway. Canadians usually don’t do stuff like this and it made me proud to see so many paying their silent tribute.
A few days ago a young lad from London, Ontario, named James Forbes created an online petition to rename this stretch of the 401 the “Highway of Heroes”. While I’m sure James didn’t intend for this to happen, politicians knowing a good opportunity when they see one jumped on the bandwagon. I see that as I typed this post tonight that the Premier of Ontario has now decreed that the highway will be renamed (link) . I disagree with both James Forbes and Premier McGuinty.
What we have had to date is a beautiful, spontaneous, and patriotic way of commemorating our fallen. The sight of the filled overpasses is sad, but heart warming. We now have politicians, pundits and bloggers (see: The Torch: ‘Highway of Heroes’) arguing over the merits of renaming a most unworthy stretch of asphalt. It is worth noting that the Province of Ontario named Highway 416 between Ottawa and the 401 “The Veteran’s Memorial Highway” a few years back. Here in the heart of Mitchieville Township, Highway 62 has been renamed in honour of my beloved Militia Regiment .
The more I read the more I see that my opinion is against the common wisdom (though I’m certainly not alone – link ). It especially bothers me that I oppose what a number of parents and loved ones of our fallen in Afghanistan support. I ask that they remember that their loved ones died for the noble cause of freedom and that the freedom of speech is at the very core of the freedom we hold so dear.
When I first heard of this petition the thought that came to mind was of our fallen are being driven down this stretch of highway to be worked on by a pathologist at the Ontario Centre for Forensic Science. I have this image of our fallen dead being driven down what is arguably the most boring stretch of highway in Ontario (it is certainly one of the ugliest) and then laid out on a sterile metal table and being methodically processed. This isn’t how we should be remembering our fallen. My point, though I’m not really sure I am making it very well, is that this all seems a little morbid. Perhaps it is because I think it is “too soon” as our monuments to the dead have traditionally been built after the wars have finished.
It is entirely appropriate to name something in honour of our fallen. As a nation we should name our hockey rinks, softball diamonds, soccer pitches, schools, community centres and town parks after them. I feel that we should wait a few years and erect a cenotaph or national monument to pay tribute to their sacrifice. In the meantime, let us honour them in a more appropriate way than this ‘Highway of Heroes’. This is the wrong tribute at the wrong time. It is for the right reason though, and we have to give James Forbes credit for that.
Lest We Forget
Update:I have read a number posts and news articles on this topic, and there seems to be some confusion over the spelling of ‘The MacDonald-Cartier Freeway‘. I had spelled it this way, then went with ‘Macdonald’ after seeing it that way on other blogs. After reading James Bow , and consulting this blog , I can safely say that the spelling in italics above is the correct spelling.