• John Jantak

Ontario veteran brings Remembrance Day message of hope to Quebec


PHOTO COURTESTY PETE FISHER – TODAY’S NORTHUMBERLAND

Master Cpl (Retired) Collin Fitzgerald, Fire Chief Mike Vilneff, and Kerri Tadeu stand with the Highway of Heroes memorial globe which was on display on November 6 at the fire hall in Coburg, Ontario. The globe is on display November 8 for students at Springdale Elementary School in Dollard-des-Ormeaux for a Remembrance Day ceremony.

Canadian Armed Forces Master Cpl. (retired) Collin Fitzgerald is in the midst of a new mission – to bring a message of hope and optimism to his fellow veterans who are still enduing the trauma from combat related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to non-veterans as well.

The message comes in the shape of the Highway of Heroes memorial globe that is being transported from place to place to honour the 158 soldiers and four civilians who gave their lives during Canada’s participation in NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014.

Memorial globe

The orb features several motifs including a soldier bowing over battle crosses (helmets atop rifles) and a military procession for a returned fallen soldier along the Highway of Heroes in Ontario. All the names of the fallen are inscribed on a rim at the base of the globe. The tailgate of a transport truck from the Department of National Defense (DND) supports the base

After recent displays in Kingston, Oakville, and Coburg, Ontario, the globe is making a stop today at Springdale Elementary School in Dollard-des-Ormeaux for a Remembrance Day commemoration. “This is its first voyage into La Belle Province,” Fitzgerald told The Journal during a telephone interview on November 5.

Service and sacrifice

“We want to try to educate the children about what service and sacrifice means as a Canadian soldier. We don’t want these people who gave up their lives to be forgotten,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want their names being diluted with time. It’s very important for kids to understand that their freedoms are not free. There’s a price that was paid.”

The globe also honours the families of the fallen, said Fitzgerald. “It was built to be mobile. The children will be able to see it and touch it. It’s very impactful. People want to spend more time with it because of the intricacies of how it all came together. Different aspects of the globe represent different stories,” he said.

First female casualty

Fitzgerald notes one significant name on the globe – Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard – who died on May 17, 2006. Goddard was the first female soldier and 16th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan.

Another name on the globe that is significant to both Fitzgerald and his chosen sister Kerri Tadeu is Major Michelle Knight Mendes. Tadeu was good friends with Mendes who reportedly took her own life in Afghanistan.

PTSD and suicide

Fitzgerald, who has dealt with his own personal traumas related to PTSD including a suicide attempt, said it’s important for veterans to come together and provide each other with the necessary support to heal from their injuries and eliminate the stigma still attached to mental health issues.

“Suicide is not an answer,” said Fitzgerald. “We want to help educate the public and anyone who is hurting. We want to help combat the epidemic of veteran suicides. It’s up to everybody to take action. Mental health is a very serious issue and I don’t believe there’s anyone who hasn’t been affected by it in some form or another.”

Highway of Heroes

The orb is aptly named the Highway of Heroes memorial globe because Fitzgerald, Tadeu and Cpl. Nick Kerr are the founders of Service and Sacrifice which adopted the complete 344 kilometre stretch (172 kilometres in each direction) of Highway 401 between Trenton and Toronto.

“We clean the Highway of Heroes twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. We want to make sure it’s clean so that future soldiers who return to Canada and have to travel that route are honoured with the bare minimum of a having clean stretch of road,” said Fitzgerald.

It’s not Fitzgerald’s first visit to Quebec. He was awarded the Sacrifice Medal during a special ceremony that honoured Canada’s Indigenous veterans as part of the nation’s 150th birthday celebrations at Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue last September.