It was fitting that the annual Spring Clean of the Highway of Heroes for 2018 ended on Mother’s Day.
During the course of six weeks, three Silver Cross Mothers along with many others including Veterans helped clean the sacred stretch of Canadian soil where 158 soldiers and 4 civilians were repatriated home and thousands of people paid their respects on the bridges to share in the Fallen Families grief.
In November 2016, Kerri Tadeu, Master Cpl (retired) Collin Fitzgerald and Cpl Nick Kerr adopted a 1.18 kilometre stretch of the Highway of Heroes in Grafton in honour of Tadeu’s friend Major Michelle Knight Mendes who was the 118 soldier who was carried home from Afghanistan.
Shortly after, the three adopted the entire 344 kilometres of the Highway of Heroes (172 km East and 172 km West).
“We adopted the Highway of Heroes in honour of Major Michelle Knight Mendes as an initiative to combat the epidemic of suicide amongst Veterans and First Responders,” said Tadeu after completing the clean.
“Our adoption is rooted in 95% mental health and 5% in garbage collection.”
The goal for the Spring clean is to have the highway cleaned by May 9 which is Canada’s National Day of Honour, but this year was delayed.
“Mother Nature had a huge impact on us. We went from winter to summer, skipping spring which stretched out our clean to over six weeks.”
Battling through extreme heat, increased exhaustion, dehydration and ticks volunteers completed the Spring Clean with 302 bags of garbage and $80 worth of empty alcohol containers that were picked up on the on and off ramps of the Highway of Heroes. For the third time the empty alcohol containers were turned into the Beer Store with the refunds donated to MADD Canada to bring awareness that there are drivers on North America’s busiest highway drinking and driving.
SerViCe-Soldier, Veteran, Civilian with retired Master Cpl Fitzgerald being the Veteran and Kerri Tadeu being the Civilian they have lead the cleaning of the Highway of Heroes twice a year since adopting it.
Along the way, they find everything you can think of, including syringes, diapers, coffee cup containers, bongs, plastic bottles filled with urine, bags of fecal matter and in rare instances – money.
Tadeu who is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse randomly tested numerous bottles of urine with a urinalysis dipstick with a hypothesis that the individuals who are peeing in the bottles and throwing the bottles out the window on Canada’s busiest highway may have serious untreated medical conditions secondary to the colour of the urine in the bottles.
The results were shocking. The urine bottles that were randomly tested at various on and off ramps along the Highway of Heroes resulted in being positive for protein, glucose, blood and leukocytes to name a just a few which supports Tadeu hypothesis leading to a second hypothesis that if the drivers are medically unwell this could be a major contributing factors in the number of accidents and deaths reported each year on the 401.
Metabolic disorders, renal failure and diabetes for example when untreated can lead to lethargy, drowsiness, fatigue confusion, blurred vision, decreased mental sharpness and disorientation.
“Hopefully this could affect change for stricter guidelines specifically for truck drivers with a focus on making the highway safer for all travellers.”
Silver Cross mother Dianne Knight participated in the clean-up in the Grafton area near her home. Tadeu, Fitzgerald and Kerr originally adopted the area in Grafton after Major Michelle Knight Mendes who died in Afghanistan. Her mother is extremely proud of the group for continuing to honour Michelle’s legacy.
“It’s very therapeutic to be out here on the Highway of Heroes to remember all of the people who have died and I enjoy getting out and meeting all the people that help with it.”
“It makes me feel very close to Michelle and I’ve adopted them all as my second family.” “Michelle would be very humbled to think that we were doing this to honour her. She would want us to do it for everyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Silver Cross Mother Beverly Todd lost their son is April 2010 in Afghanistan. Todd and other friends and relatives travelled over two hours to pick up garbage in Toronto.
“It’s important to keep this area respectful for the people who have traveled along the highway.”
A memory Todd remembers is that her son bought a motorcycle in Edmonton and before he was deployed he rode it down the Highway of Heroes.
“It was important for him to travel it.”
She said it feels good to clean the highway but, “it’s upsetting to see the reality of how much garbage there is.” Beverly Todd and Trevor Baer along with family and friends has affected remarkable change in honour of Private Tyler Todd by raising over $350,000 for Wounded Warriors at their annual Private Tyler Todd Event in Plattsville every Easter Weekend.
Silver Cross Mother Anna Loveman from Port Hope took part over the course of several weeks also helping to clean the highway. Since her son, Kyle Sinclair’s death she has devoted her life to serving Veterans as a Civilian through the Canadian Heroes organization turning her pain into purpose and honouring her sons service.
One day while the group was cleaning the on-ramp at Wesleyville they met Lorna Dickson who was cleaning the area that abuts her brother’s property.
“It’s sad that people don’t care anymore. Respecting the environment, the Highway of Heroes, we only have one earth. Take your garbage when you refill and put it in the bin,” said Dickson.
“It’s not hard.”
Jesper Boel from Denmark first met Tadeu and Fitzgerald at the Invictus games in Toronto in September 2017 while he was cheering on a friend who had been injured by a sniper in Bosnia. When Boel heard the story about the cleaning of the Highway of Heroes he booked a flight to Canada to take part in the clean-up.
“It’s fulfilled apart of me that I’ve never known before.”
Sadly, Boel said the garbage along the highway in Canada is similar to Denmark.
“The Highway of Heroes is a good way for people to show honour and respect to the families left behind.”
Tadeu said that Boel coming over on “his own time and dime was am extraordinary commitment.”
“It is really inspiring that our Highway of Heroes have captured international hearts and minds.”
“Jesper received a priceless education about the cost of war abroad for Canadian Forces Members and the cost of the war at home for Veterans, First Responders and their family members during the clean.”
”A highlight during the Highway of Heroes Spring Clean is when Jesper was personally thanked and coined by the Minister of National Defence Harijit Sajjan for travelling to Canada to clean our Highway of Heroes”
An assortment of Soldiers, Veterans and Civilians including a number of Police Officers took part in the cleaning of the Highway of Heroes this Spring.
“It’s for the Veteran Community- Veterans and those who care about veterans,” said Tadeu.
“But it is also affecting great change not only in the landscape of our communities, but it’s helping the ill and injured Veterans out of isolation. When we can get at least one person out of isolation out with another comrade or a Mother of a Fallen soldier and they can share in the Canadian pride and pain that is the footprint of the Highway of Heroes and turn that pain into purpose, it’s affecting great change in the lives of those who join us to clean,” said Tadeu.
“From a psychological point of view, I don’t know how Canadians have the mind set to throw their garbage out their window onto the land of the free because of the brave.”
Miller Maintenance, specifically Rob Baird has been extremely supportive and generous in sharing his knowledge, skill and judgement in cleaning the Highway of Heroes providing continuous safety tips from over two decades of working for Miller Maintenace. Rob has a deep understanding in the Canadian pride and pain engrained in the Highway of Heroes and has been volunteering his time journeying up and down the Highway of Heroes numerous days of the six weeks of cleaning all the way from Trenton to Keele Street with the support of his supervisor Matt Maclean.
Having spent over $5,000 of their own funds Tadeu and Fitzgerald have never asked for financial support for their Highway of Heroes Adoption. Princess Patrica Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Veteran, Bruce Frampton asked Fitzgerald if he could support the adoption which honours the 158 Canadian Forces Soldiers that gave their today’s for our tomorrows with gas cards to cover the expense for the Spring Clean as his way of participating in the Highway of Heroes Clean up efforts that helps his brothers and sisters in arms. CannaConnect donated $700 and Med ReLeaf donated $700 in gas cards along with $200 from a PPCLI gathering organized by Frampton. “Once a Patricia, Always a Patricia” an emotional Fitzgerald shared. “I am very thankful for Bruce organizing a very generous donation that covered the entire gas expense of our Highway of Heroes Spring Clean and Highway of Heroes Adoption Commemorative Ceremonies.
Silver Cross mothers Anna Loveman, Beverly Todd and Dianne Knight.
Members of the PPCLI Association, OPP Officers, Cobourg Police Officers, Toronto Police Officers, Canadian Forces members from CFB Kingston and CFB Trenton, MP Neil Ellis, Veterans afflicted with Operational Stress Injuries including chronic symptoms of PTSD, Jesper Boel who flew to Canada from Denmark to take part in the Spring Clean of the Highway of Heroes. Respect and gratitude to all of you.
Tadeu and Fitzgerald partnered with Canadian Forces Veteran Sherry Lachine with Broadmind to run monthly Mental Health First Aid Courses under their Highway of Heroes Adoption in Kingston for the Veteran Community generously funded by Veterans Affairs Canada. This initiative is supported by the City of Kingston. For more information contact Sherry at ?firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-484-2977? to register for one of these free of charge, life saving courses
Special Course being offered in Toronto hosted by Rob Baird at the Miller Maintenace Yard September 17 & 18 for the Veteran Community – Veterans and those who care about Veterans.