Whom exactly does Highway of Heroes honour?

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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cutline: Fernando Fernandes gets ready to depart for the 25-kilometre hike to Summerside from Borden-Carleton in the parade of motorcycles marking the opening of the Highway of Heroes on Saturday, June 28.

By Earle Lockerby (guest opinion)

The article, “Highway of Heroes unveiled on P.E.I.” by Brett Poirier (The Guardian, June 30) raises interesting questions. A 172-km stretch of Ontario’s Highway 401, linking Trenton to Toronto, was Canada’s first Highway of Heroes. It received this designation in 2007 to honour all Canadian soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan. Their remains were air-lifted from Afghanistan to C.F.B.Trenton, and then went by road to the coroner’s office in Toronto, before being sent to their families across Canada.

 Who is a hero? Dictionaries provide various definitions, but perhaps one that is particularly apt here is “a person who shows great courage.” People who sacrifice their lives in the service of their country or their community, e.g., the three Mounties who recently lost their lives in Moncton, are generally considered heroes.

The aforementioned Guardian article states that the P.E.I. highway honours “all heroes,” not just soldiers. It further indicates that a hero is “anyone who has served in uniform.” Perhaps for further ‘clarity,’ it also states that the Island’s new Highway of Heroes “is for all the men and women who protect and serve.”

Among the most notable heroes of Canada and P.E.I. are individuals who neither wear uniforms nor “protect and serve” in the way done by police and other first responders. They are the civilians who on the spur of the moment, and at great risk to themselves, spring to action to save the occupant of a submerged automobile that has gone into a river; a person not trained in lifesaving who swims into a rip tide or undertow to save a drowning person.

 In 2008 Charlottetown residents Stephen Power and Tami Strickland rescued a woman with disabilities from a smoke-filled apartment. For their courage and valor they were each presented with the Medal of Bravery by the Governor-General. They are clearly heroes.

 On the other hand, is a Fisheries Officer or an Environmental Officer doing a routine job (they “protect and serve”) a hero? Is a uniformed, Armed Forces flight instructor who has never seen combat, and perhaps never served beyond Canada, a hero? What about civilians who perform work that is contracted out by the Armed Forces— work that was at one time done ‘in house’ by uniformed military personnel? Is a uniformed officer in the Salvation Army a hero? What about the uniformed air crew who fly Prime Minister Harper wherever he wants to go in a Canadian Forces jet? If the latter are heroes, why not anyone employed by Westjet?

 I am not arguing that any of these people are not heroes. I am, however, pointing out that sloppiness on the part of reporters, politicians or government bureaucrats with respect to describing, or defining, who is recognized by P.E.I.’s Highway of Heroes does a disservice to our understanding and concept of who our heroes are.

It dilutes and undermines the status of those who are real heroes.

 

Earle Lockerby, a summer resident of Darnley, is a historian who has written widely on Island history. He considers his great-uncle and namesake, Earle Lockerby, a hero for sacrificing his life for king and country in France during World War I.

Organizations: Salvation Army, Canadian Forces

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada, Toronto Afghanistan Ontario Trenton Iceland Moncton Charlottetown Darnley France

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