A pair of combat boots symbolizing the journey taken by Canadian soldiers who fought in the Second World War arrived in Halifax Monday, completing a cross-Canada journey by train that began in Vancouver at the end of March.
The boots were accompanied by a 98-year-old veteran who landed as part of the D-Day invasion of France 75 years ago.
Havelyn Chiasson was just 23 when he waded ashore with New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment, as part of the first wave of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
“Five-thirty in the morning we landed,” said Chiasson. “We sailed out of Southampton and it took us six hours to cross. Then we got into our landing crafts.”
About 14,000 Canadians landed at Juno Beach on D-Day and 359 were killed on the first day of fighting, many in Chiasson’s sector of the beach.
“It was rough going,” was all he said when asked what he encountered.
Chiasson went on to battle through France, Belgium, and Holland and was fighting in Germany when the war ended nearly a year later.
The Dartmouth, N.S., resident, who got on the train for the last leg of its journey from Truro, N.S. to Halifax, smiled when asked whether those momentous events seemed so long ago.
“I wouldn’t believe it that it would be that long,” Chiasson said. “There’s not very many of us left that landed on D-Day.”
The combat boots were given an official welcome at the Halifax Via Rail Canada train station after travelling more than 5,000 kilometres and stopping in more than 17 communities.
The trip began March 29 in Vancouver at a send-off attended by veterans and Lawrence MacAulay, the minister of veterans affairs.
MacAulay said the boots are meant as a visual representation of the journey Canadians made to serve in the Second World War. Halifax was a main departure point for troops heading overseas.
Robert Loken, manager of commemorations for veterans affairs, said the idea has garnered a positive response across the county.
“Two years ago when we commemorated the centennial of Vimy (Ridge) we used boots to represent our Canadian soldiers who died fighting for our freedoms at Vimy,” said Loken.
“That really captured the imagination of Canadians . . . so we kept that image for this particular program.”
WATCH: D-Day explained: How Canadians shaped the greatest invasion in military history
The boots ceremony was the first of three official events in Halifax to mark the momentous D-Day battle and the ensuing campaign in Normandy.
On Wednesday a wreath-laying ceremony will be held at a memorial in Point Pleasant Park, and the Government of Canada will hold another ceremony on Thursday at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
The battles following the seaborne invasion were among Canada’s most significant military engagements of the 20th century.
The battle for Normandy through the summer of 1944 claimed 5,000 Canadian lives, while another 13,000 were wounded.