Durham MP Erin O’Toole describes the Highway of Heroes Durham Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) Monument as a place to pay tribute to Canada’s role in Afghanistan — but more importantly it will mark a highway that has become a symbol of honouring fallen soldiers.
"All of Canada has great respect for the Highway of Heroes but only a few communities are actually along the highway and can be the sort of guardian of that legacy," he explains. "The Durham Region is most of the Highway of Heroes."
The Municipality of Clarington, Ont. has provided a large grassy area within its sports fields located adjacent to the Highway of Heroes for the monument and parkette project. The area is accessible from the 401 Highway of Heroes at the Waverley Road exit — a bridge where Clarington residents often stood for repatriations.
"Our community has been very cognizant of the Afghanistan conflict. We’re very proud of the military," adds O’Toole. "That was heightened when we lost Darryl Caswell. His funeral was a major turning point for the community." Trooper Caswell was raised in Bowmanville, which is located within the municipality, and was killed in action in June 2007. His name was added to the cenotaph in Bowmanville and there is a street named in his honour. Colonel Geoff Parker was also killed in action in Afghanistan in May 2010. His widow and family now reside in Courtice.
"We all hope there will never be another trip down the Highway of Heroes but we shouldn’t forget it," says O’Toole.
The LAV monument project is a national initiative of Canada Company, which is a charitable, non-partisan organization "that serves to build the bridge between business and community leaders and the Canadian Military," a release explains.
The monument will be created from a demilitarized and decommissioned LAV III hull, donated by the Government of Canada.
"The LAV in many ways is the iconic vehicle of that mission," O’Toole states. "It’s made in London, Ont. This is a tradition of having these pieces of military hardware serve as a bit of a historic marker."
The LAV will act as the centrepiece of the parkette, which will also feature commemorative markers and areas of reflection.
Nationally, the Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument will be the only monument placed approximate to the highway in Ontario, the release adds. Locally, it will acknowledge dozens of Durham residents who served in Afghanistan and help mark 150 years of service of Durham’s Ontario Regiment.
O’Toole states he is hoping the parkette will be used as a teaching space for students. He would like to see modern-day markers with QR codes that can be scanned with a phone so videos or descriptions pop up for people to learn from.
"We want this to be a place of reflection and education 10, 15 years from now," he says. "We are basically at the final stages of planning and preparation. Work will likely begin in early August."
Clarington council waived the traditional tendering process for this project, O’Toole explains, to allow in-kind and monetary donations for the project to come to life. O’Toole mentioned Halminen Homes of Courtice and St. Mary’s Cement as two examples of businesses that have already promised in-kind and monetary help to build the parkette.
The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) is also helping spread the word about the project to their membership.
"OGCA believes it is a worthwhile endeavour that shows the respect and appreciation we have for our service men and women," says OGCA president Clive Thurston.
O’Toole says he’s elated with the interest that’s come forth since the fundraising launch in June.
"I’m calling it almost a modern-day barn raising. The people and the businesses and the craftsman have the ability to lend their talents. People want to lend a hand," O’Toole adds.
The Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument will be unveiled Sept. 24 to coincide with the Wounded Warriors Highway of Heroes Ride, which will wrap up its first ride day at the monument. The intent is to replicate this ride annually and stop at the LAV monument to end the first day each year.
"This is really Durham coming together," says O’Toole. "It’s a nice grassroots effort."
Over 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan during the 12-year Canadian Armed Forces Mission. For more information about the initiative, contact email@example.com.