The Highway of Heroes
January 2, 2008 10:21 PM   Subscribe

The body of a Canadian soldier was transported from CFB Trenton to Toronto tonight via Highway 401, one of the busiest highways in North America. Along that 170km stretch of road, citizens gathered at the overpasses to wave flags and pay their respects as the motorcade passed by, as they have been doing since the summer. [Pics of a previous such event, found on a web forum.] Following an online petition, the government officially recognized this stretch of highway as officially designated the Highway of Heroes [pic] . The families appreciate the practice, but some people find the designation overly sentimental.
posted by PercussivePaul (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
bleh I mangled it. should read "the government officially designated this stretch of highway as ..."
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:25 PM on January 2, 2008

And it intersects the 404, which of course has been dedicated to Canadians MIA.

It's a fine thing to respect the dead, but if it would bring in votes, most in parliament would also vote to call it the Detour of the Dead, the Freeway of Fatalities, and the Road to Ruin.
posted by pracowity at 10:42 PM on January 2, 2008 [6 favorites]

Good grief.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:51 PM on January 2, 2008

Well, they do say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:56 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

And it intersects the 404, which of course has been dedicated to Canadians MIA.

Penny drops. That is good. That is very good. Right up there with the yeti post.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:57 PM on January 2, 2008

Yeah, renaming that stretch of road is just a little too creepy, lurid and pandering.

On the other hand, bravo to Canada for acknowledging the caskets of their fallen soldiers. Instead of doing something even weirder banning photographs of them or something sick like that.
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:57 PM on January 2, 2008

Isn't most of this from, like, August?
You can designate it whatever you want, it's empty symbolism and it's still the 401, (not "take the Highway of Heroes east to Port Hope and exit at the Tim Horton's...")
And the one columnist is right, what soldier on his or her way to Trenton, driving on the highway, wants to think of coming back dead? For fuck's sake. Stick a fucking coffin sticker on their luggage.
posted by chococat at 10:57 PM on January 2, 2008

even weirder such as banning photographs

(really must stop leaving words out)
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:57 PM on January 2, 2008

It is mostly from August, yes. I only found out about it today, since I'm home for the holidays in Oshawa right smack in the middle of it. Out in Vancouver this didn't make the news, as far as I know. I was intrigued enough to share it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:03 PM on January 2, 2008

What a load of wank.
posted by autodidact at 11:16 PM on January 2, 2008

It is worth noting that the renaming of the stretch of highway was in September of 2007, and was done to help garner votes for Dalton McGuinty's election this past October.

People were coming to the roads before the naming and one of the reasons is because Prime Minister Harper, echoing George Bush, stopped anyone including the press but excluding family from visiting the airport where bodies arrive, although he might have toned it down a bit later.

The naming of the highway is such a bland move that even the exceptionally anti-war Quebec named a section of the TC as Autoroute du Souvenir (Remembrance Highway) and stuck a big poppy on the signs without garnering much of a fuss. That happened in November.

As a Canadian, and former Master Corporal in the CF, I think it's great to support our troops, and not to forget about those who have served for their country, but I truly believe that naming highways after our fallen is a lamentable practice. Up until recently, it was normally parks or town squares that were named after these sorts of things, because they were places where people could stop, think, and meditate on the topics of war, sacrifice and service. You can do that at the tomb of the unknown soldier. You can do that in front of legions and cenotaphs, but you'll never be able to do that when you're burning 118km/h over black ice with a double double in your cup holder. People don't seem to be able to realize that.
posted by furtive at 11:21 PM on January 2, 2008 [11 favorites]

Yeah, it seems in poor taste to name one of the worst death traps in the country after those who die in war, since apparently accidents on our nation's highways account for 25 billion dollars in health care and property damage and nearly 3,000 deaths a year. It would be nicer to designate an area that more accurately represents what folks who died while in service overseas actually gave their lives for (unless you think your right to get killed in a traffic accident is the ultimate in personal freedom).
posted by Hildegarde at 12:00 AM on January 3, 2008

I dunno, the naming of highways in honor of soldiers or veterans is fairly common in the US. I live next to US 51, which Wisconsin has designated in honor of Korean War Vets, and I grew up on a street that had its name changed from St. Mary's St. to Memorial Dr. when it connected to the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and in the adjoining city park there is an eternal flame and a Veterans Memorial Walkway.

The local vets made a clumsy foray into politics by proposing that the city rename the county Courthouse Park after a Medal of Honor winner (jumped on a grenade to save his buddies in Vietnam), but after some back and forth were persuaded to accept another bridge being named for him. There was no quarrel by anyone with honoring him somehow, but it was curious to me that they chose in advance what should be named after him, and then got defensive and petulant when that choice was denied (I don't even recall if they ever approached the County Board).

I guess I like it a bit better when they pick one guy and name something appropriate after him, like O'Hare Field, or the Richard I. Bong Recreation Area (really), which is a state property that was once a USAAF training field.

Anyway, these secondary designations don't usually get used much, e.g. by traffic reporters or travel agents. It's a gesture, not a great one, but it seems to be one of those deals where the political entity has this big thing they've built and they give it a name.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 AM on January 3, 2008

Well said, furtive.
posted by chococat at 12:14 AM on January 3, 2008

"...There's a trace of mint wafting in from the North so we don't fuck with the 401"

- The Tragically Hip
posted by bwg at 12:22 AM on January 3, 2008

Knew you'd be a vision in white.
How'd you get your pants so tight?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:35 AM on January 3, 2008

dhartung - Good point. Here in Olympia, the bridge connecting downtown to the west side is called "The Yashiro Friendship Bridge," or, as everyone but the sign calls it, the "fourth avenue bridge"
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:29 AM on January 3, 2008

I dunno, the naming of highways in honor of soldiers or veterans is fairly common in the US.

There also used to be at least one municpial sports stadium, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, named in honor of veterans. But they tore it down and put up two corporate-named cesspools in its place. The selling of road names for the same money-grubbing purpose cannot be far behind.
posted by three blind mice at 1:43 AM on January 3, 2008

the Richard I. Bong Recreation Area (really)

Richard I. Bong (really)
posted by pax digita at 3:17 AM on January 3, 2008

What's weird is that we already have a Veterans' Memorial Highway -- Highway 416, that takes you to Ottawa from the 401 around Prescott. And they didn't name the whole 401, just a 200 km stretch of it.

Me, I just want the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway signs back.
posted by mendel at 5:38 AM on January 3, 2008

Over the last 20 years, Canada has somewhat neglected their military (equipping, wages, treatment of vets), so a bit of recognition isn't a terrible thing. I can agree that memorials to the fallen would be better as parks etc.

BTW, citizens of ANY country with the word "Homeland" in any one of their department names should be automatically prohibited from snarking in this thread.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:23 AM on January 3, 2008

Me, I just want the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway signs back.

Yeah, using "MC 401" as your rap name doesn't work without those signs...
posted by biscotti at 7:13 AM on January 3, 2008

If the soldiers and their families appreciate the gesture of naming a stretch of highway after the fallen, then it's worth doing. I do like that the name grew out of the practice of people gathering there to watch as the dead soldiers are taken home - if they'd named some geographical feature such as a mountain peak that few people would ever see after the dead, then it would truly be an empty gesture. I've seen news clips of people watching and saluting as they pass.
posted by orange swan at 8:18 AM on January 3, 2008

Gathering to watch the dead pass is one of the creepiest things I've ever heard. Taking your kids is even worse. Unless of course you want to instill the lesson that the military is a career choice with massive downsides.

And why is there a firetruck in the second picture? Firemen need to stop glomming onto popular political causes, get back to getting kittens out of trees.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:31 AM on January 3, 2008

rather than remembering the already-dead, how about commemorating the future dead? while we're pausing to give thanks for the sacrifices our soldiers make, it might then occur to us they haven't quite died yet, and that there's something we might do to stop the next war, rather than simply feeling bad about it aftwerwards.
posted by klanawa at 8:33 AM on January 3, 2008

Unless of course you want to instill the lesson that the military is a career choice with massive downsides.

And why wouldn't you want to do that? It's true, after all.
posted by ssg at 8:44 AM on January 3, 2008

I've taken heat in the past for criticizing blindered romanticization of military service. It comes from the same nationalistic emotional heartstring as banning all acts of defamation of the flag.

People with a government job that carries a daily death risk have my support and sympathy, but it still doesn't mean we're anything more than pink goo draped on white sticks stumbling around on a tiny stanky rock.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:46 AM on January 3, 2008

Still waiting for some douchebags from Vancouver to post about how Toronto is polluted, how great their weather is and how much they hate the Leafs.

Oh, wait, this isn't the Globe's "discussion" page. Carry on.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2008

Hate this. It seems we are turning into the US after all.
posted by jokeefe at 8:58 AM on January 3, 2008

I don't think the act of designating the highway is the issue. By and large, even Canadians who don't support the country's military engagements seem ready and willing to pay tribute to those who serve, and those who died in the service. The act of lining the bridges for returning soldiers is at once heart-wearming and terribly melancholy.

But the word "Heros" brings uncomfortable baggage for Canadians. We don't use that word so much here. A name like "Highway of Heros" smacks of Fox News jingoism, the kind that threatens us with that kind of climate where we can't question the war in Afghanistan without being told we're siding with the terrorists. The cudgel of "if you don't support the mission, you don't support the troops" isn't part of the political language here yet, and I hope it stays that way.

In the America we see on TV, there are two teams: The Terrorists and the Hee-roes. It's rather like the geopolitics of GI Joe, without the laser guns. To my mind, anyone who volunteers every day to perform a life-threatening job in the service of the vast, complacent electorate is a kind of hero. Reducing them to politically expedient Hee-roes cheapens their work.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Maybe this needs some corporate sponsorship. What about the Highway of Heroes?

posted by anthill at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2008

Richard I. Bong Recreation Area (really)

He's not joking. It's pretty close to the Mars Cheese Castle.
posted by eriko at 11:14 AM on January 3, 2008

thank you for this FPP. i passed under a bunch of patriotic canadians and fire trucks hanging out quietly on a series of bridges this past summer and i couldn't figure out what the heck they were doing up there- they had no signs to ID their cause, and my halfassed googling a few weeks later yielded no results. i thought it was a treaty / first nations issue. i'm pretty sure i saw an elephant on one of those bridges. like a real, live elephant animal. which seems a little out of place for a funeral motorcade, but is pretty cool anyway, i guess.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:19 PM on January 3, 2008

The cudgel of "if you don't support the mission, you don't support the troops" isn't part of the political language here yet, and I hope it stays that way.

This "Highway of Heroes" thing has really irked me since I first heard about it a few months ago, and beyond the obvious crass jingoism I couldn't put my finger on why, but this is close to it. As far as I can recall - and my father was a career Canadian Forces officer, so I can recall pretty vividly everything that's happened to the CF since the late '70s - the military doing their duty (in active combat or otherwise) has never been used as this kind of cudgel before. I don't remember "Support the Troops" sloganeering around Bosnia or Haiti or the first Gulf War. It reeks of rotten politics, even on the breath of a centre-lefty like McGuinty.

Soldiers are usually the first to downplay or outright deny the presence of heroism even on the battlefield (read Studs Terkel's magificent kaleidoscope of WWII "The Good War" as a particularly poignant case in point), and Canada's volunteer military has in particular prided itself on humanitarian, nonpartisan duty and service. Talk to my dad about Afghanistan, and though he's retired he's still enough of a military officer that he refuses to even entertain the idea that there are ways of looking at Canada's role there beyond the mission as defined by the Dept of National Defense. Not for him to wonder about Karzai's provenance or the futility of holding Hwy 1 (let alone the hinterland) for any length of time. The mission is to eliminate the Taliban and pave the way for democratic institutions. Period.

Which is why it's the duty of every Canadian civilian to demand, vocieferously and repeatedly, on behalf of every one of those bodies riding the 401 in a coffin, to know what the goals of that mission are and the viability of ever achieving them. It's our job to question, question, question the government's decision to deploy those soldiers on the battlefield. To ask whose national interest it serves. To wonder, at base, why we think we can achieve a thing that armies dating back to Alexander the Great's have failed to do, and then to wonder, in the face of such futility, whether a single Canadian life is worth sacrificing to the rhetorical fluorishes of the mission.

"Highway of Heroes"? If you want to call it something, I could maybe live with the Highway of Duty, as long as there are plenty of offramps labelled "Sober Second Thought" and "Dispassioniate Analysis" and "Vigourous Public Debate." Save your yellow-ribbon bumper magnets - never saw a single one in an entire childhood spent on military bases around the world, and I don't put much stock in them now.
posted by gompa at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm all for memorializing those who have sacrificed (regardless of what one thinks of the politics that caused that sacrifice to be necessary), but a highway seems pretty tasteless. It's the ultimate in cheap meaninglessness -- slap a name that nobody will ever use onto an object that most people regard as a necessary evil at best, a scar on the landscape at worst. What's next, the "Veterans' Memorial Landfill"?

It's particularly embarrassing because there are so many examples of tasteful, elegant, respectful war memorials. Slapping a name on a highway is none of those.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Firemen need to stop glomming onto popular political causes.

Well said.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:44 PM on January 3, 2008

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