An annual walk to honour military veterans, first responders, civil servants and essential front line workers across Canada is coming to Saskatchewan for the first time this weekend.
The third annual Canadian Walk for Veterans is set to be held on Sept. 26 and 27.
While the goal of the event has always been to have an event in every city across Canada, the pandemic has enabled this, allowing the organization to hold a virtual walk in honour of veterans and first responders.
Supporters are encouraged to register and get active in their communities where they choose and any time over the two days to walk, run, bike, do pushups or anything they choose, and show support by uploading pictures and videos to social media with the hashtag #canwalk4vets
“Because of COVID-19, our theme for this year has shifted to what is in the hearts of all of us in these difficult times,” the walk organizers wrote in a press release.
“Service, sacrifice and selflessness are the tenants of our best. This year we highlight the contributions made any those who choose to give of themselves when times get hard.
“To the military, veterans, first responders, civil servants and every essential front line worker across Canada, this year’s walk is for them.”
Everyone who registers and pays the $20 registration fee will receive this year’s commemorative coin, which is made in Canada by a veteran-owned company.
The beneficiary of this year’s walk is Courageous Companions, which works to provide top quality service dogs to help military veterans and first responders.
These dogs can have a huge impact due to their intensive training and unwavering loyalty. The cost to train one is immense and is not covered by Veteran Affairs Canada.
In Prince Albert, a physically-distant walk will be held in Kinsmen Park on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Registration can be done in advance at canadianwalkforveterans.com, but can also be done on-site Saturday.
The Prince Albert event has an additional twist — local veterans who served in the Medak Pocket in Croatia in 1993 will be receiving a Quilt of Valour.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, in September 1993, Canadian soldiers experienced their most intense firefight since the Korean War when members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were pounded with heavy machine gun fire, grenades, cannons and small arms fire in the Medak Pocket of Croatia.
The incident occurred as part of civil war and armed unrest following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The Canadians were part of a peacekeeping mission when they were attacked by a Croatian advance.
Attacks made by the Croatian forces on Serbian civilians in the region were later prosecuted as war crimes.
“The wounds of peacekeeping are not always caused by hostile fire, land mines or accidents. They do not always leave physical scars,” Veterans Affairs writes on their website.
“The mission in the former Yugoslavia was particularly difficult for those deployed there. The human atrocities perpetrated against the civilian population were horrific – witnessing human brutality on this scale has a deep impact on those who see it. “
Quilts of Valour support injured Canadian Forces members, past and present, with quilts of comfort.
It’s like giving the former and current members a big hug.
The Prince Albert event is being organized by local first responder and veteran mental health advocate Michelle McKeaveney.
“It’s the first year Saskatchewan has been included,” McKeaveney said.
“I’m proud to be the Saskatchewan representative for this because I’m a spouse of a veteran. I know the effects on the family.”
McKeaveney said the quilts will be presented in Prince Albert by Dave Bona and Mike Rude, two veterans themselves who are outspoken activists for soldiers who were given mefloquine, a controversial anti-malaria drug once used by the Canadian military.
The medication has been shown to carry serious side effects, which a number of veterans suing the federal government argue the military failed to make clear to them.
Side effects of the medication include anxiety, paranoia, depression, hallucination, vertigo, tinnitus, seizures and insomnia.
The Canadian Forces stopped offering it as a first option for deployments in 2017 after analyzing studies on the use of the drug.
Soldiers who were given mefloquine are battling side effects from the drug in addition to post-traumatic stress in many cases.
The local event will also be supported by members of a local support group for first responders called What’s Important Now, or WIN.
The group, which supports first responders, veterans and frontline workers suffering from mental health concerns such as post-traumatic stress or other operational stress injuries as a result of work-related trauma, will be introducing themselves to participants in a COVID-19-safe fashion.
McKeaveney said the Prince Albert event is an important way to recognize local veterans and reservists who are sometimes overlooked because they only served one tour of duty.
“It’s bringing awareness to Saskatchewan and letting Canada know how proud Saskatchewan is of our armed forces members, and those who have served in peacekeeping missions.”