Watch above: If you were driving along Highway 11 near Sylvan Lake this weekend you couldn’t miss it; Lined along the highway there’s now a show of honour for Canada’s soldiers. As Eric Szeto reports, the timing of the tribute couldn’t have been more fitting in light of what happened in Ottawa and Quebec last week.
EDMONTON — It’s a show of support that’s causing motorists in central Alberta to stop and remember; more than 100 flags have been set up along a Highway 11 to honour fallen Canadian soldiers.
As the nation mourns the death of the two soldiers killed last week — 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo — the flags were set up on the highway between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer this weekend. Each of the 116 flags represents 1,000 soldiers; a tribute to the 116,000 Canadian soldiers who have died since 1900.
“They’re in tribute to our veterans,” said Allan Cameron, founding executive director of Veterans Voices of Canada. “I knew it was going to be impressive to see. I knew that. I knew that was going to be what was going to catch people’s eye. So if that’s what it takes to get people to stop, think and remember, we’re going to do it.”
Cameron starting planning the flag tribute about four years ago. The fact that the ceremony fell on the weekend following Vincent and Cirillo’s deaths was just tragic timing.
“I think our guys, our two fellows who lost their lives last week, I think if they knew what was happening they’ll know that their deaths weren’t in vain,” said Cameron. “And I think they’re looking down and they’re proud of us as Canadians for what we’re doing.”
“It’s quite touching, especially given the events of this week,” said Ken Johnston with the City of Red Deer. “It’s a tribute, really, to everything Canadian and to every Canadian value and everything Canada stands for. It’s emotional, but it’s also very, very uplifting and very encouraging.”
The tribute was particularly emotional for Rhonda Draeger, whose husband, Walter Draeger, served in the military for 23 years before he died in a car collision in January of this year.
“It’s very emotionally overwhelming,” Draeger said Sunday. “It really is hard to put into words because it’s such a sign of appreciation.”
During his time in the military, Draeger’s husband, who retired in February 2013, did a tour in Bosnia in 1994-1995 and two tours in Afghanistan, in 2006 and 2011.
“He was actually part of the flag party that took down the Canada flag in Kandahar,” said Draeger.
Because of that, flags have a huge significance in the Draeger family.
“I actually have the flag that was on his casket at his funeral, so flags are a big sign and have a lot of meaning in our family.”
Sponsored plaques with names of soldiers will be added to the flags along Highway 11 this week. The flags will be taken down on Nov. 15.
The tribute has become so popular there are plans to put the flags up again next year. Cameron hopes the tribute can also expand to every province across the country.