It’s a sacred stretch of highway that has brought the military and veteran community together along with the rest of Canada during wartime.
And now the Highway of Heroes once again is bringing together military members, veterans, their family and friends thanks to an initiative of Kerri Tadeu, MCpl. (ret’d) Collin Fitzgerald and Cpl. Nick Kerr.
Founded by Tadeu, MCpl. (ret’d) Collin Fitzgerald, and Nick Kerr SerViCe, and Sacrifice is committed to the well-being of veterans. Tadeu launched the organization to honour her friend Michelle Knight Mendes, a Canadian Armed Forces member who lost her life while serving in Afghanistan.
Over the years, the group has held a multitude of events for veterans, including: mental health first aid training and a Devotion to Duty Ceremony.
In 2017 these three friends adopted the Highway of Heroes in an effort to not only clean the stretch of highway, but to help veterans and military members heal and come together.
To-date, while cleaning this 344-kilometre highway, these groups of volunteers have collected 24 tons of garbage.
However, cleaning the Highway of Heroes is about much more than just cleaning the highway.
“We looked at the Highway of Heroes as a sacred stretch of soil that held a lot of pride and a lot of pain, and we wanted to take that pain and put it into purpose. We wanted to bring together veterans, first responders, family and friends, and family of the fallen,” said Tadeu, co-founder of SerViCe and Sacrifice.
Tadeu and her partners’ real focus here is to combat the rising rates of suicide amongst military members and veterans. Being out on the highway to clean not only brings people together, people who often find it a challenge to be in public, but also gives them an opportunity to connect.
“It’s peaceful and purposeful, and people aren’t focusing on garbage but on who they are with and why and what that highway means to the world,” commented Tadeu.
To truly achieve their goal, however, their work extends beyond the highway.
In 2017, Tadeu, Fitzgerald, Kerr made an effort to do commemorative ceremonies and visit retirement homes to thank veterans personally.
In 2018, SerViCe certified 156 individuals in mental health first aid. These courses were free-of-charge for the veteran community paid by Veterans Affairs Canada.
This year, SerViCe is focused on sports and “helping the nation’s helpers heal through sport.” Throughout the year, they’ve run multiple sporting events, including a golf and softball tournament.
Currently, Tadeu is now focused on their main event: the Highway of Heroes Hockey game.
During the game, veterans, military members and their families will have the opportunity to play against former Toronto Maple Leafs players. The game will be free-of-charge for all those connected with the military community.
“The whole purpose of the hockey game, which was the whole purpose adopting the Highway of Heroes, was to combat the epidemic of suicide,” said Tadeu. (click on the photo below to purchase your tickets)
The Highway of Heroes clean also makes an effort to recognize fallen soldiers.
Just last month, those out on the highway recognized Craftsman Kyle Sinclair, who died in a preventable accident at CFB Petawawa in 2014.
His mother, Silver Cross mom Anna Loveman, was present at the clean.
“We recognize that Silver Cross moms aren’t just from Afghanistan,” noted Tadeu.
The cleans on the Highway of Heroes have garnered attention, with several people contacting Tadeu looking for ways to support military members and veterans. To them, Tadeu just has one message:
“If you want to support the Canadian Armed Forces and a veteran, come out and share the same space with them. That’s why we did the mental health first aid courses last year, that’s why we’re doing healing through sports this year,” said Tadeu.
The Highway of Heroes Hockey Game will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Leon’s Centre in Kingston, ON.