Annual Walk for Veterans sees significant growth

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The walkers in the Walk for Veterans posed for a photo before the Walk for Veterans at Kinsmen Park on Sunday.

Veterans, first responders, and their friends and family made their way to Kinsmen Park on Sunday to take part in the sixth annual Walk for Veterans in Prince Albert.

Former members and their families walked to raise awareness about the struggles faced by Canadian veterans, first responders, and foreign nationals who supported Canadian troops in conflict zones such as Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan and other peacekeeping missions.

Dean Blanchard, who serves on the board of the River Valley Resilience Retreat was among the 30 participants in the walk.

“The Walk for Veterans, it’s just a friendly reminder again just be there and to let people know that we’re still here,” Blanchard said. “We’re all still here. We’re all still brothers and sisters and fathers. It’s just that we did some stuff.”

Attendees walked around Kinsmen Park to pay tribute to veterans. The event in Prince Albert was one of 11 walks being held across Canada and the only one in Saskatchewan. Hundreds more Canadians supported the walk virtually by walking in their communities and donating pledges online.

Blanchard was happy with the turnout in Prince Albert, and with the wide-variety of branches represented.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Attendees in the Walk for Veterans make their way around Kinsmen Park on Sunday.

“I see some jumpers, I see some peacekeepers and I see some Navy. We’re harder on each other than we are on normal people, but don’t get in between us because we have got each other’s back pretty good,” Blanchard said.

“This is nice because all year we are just doing our jobs,” he added. “We’re never going to take away Remembrance Day, that’s a special time. I think it’s just a matter of being acknowledged, that’s all.

“We never did it for accolades, we never did it for money, we never did it for awards. Of all of the people I met in the service, there was not one person who did it for anything other than everybody else. I did it so my kids don’t have to.

“I’m seeing older veterans here today they deserve our respect. They deserve the time of day, even though they don’t ask for it, and most of these guys here, you have to force them to come out to be recognized.”

Blanchard explained that the service sees no colour. When he was in the Army, Blanchard said you were Army, Navy, or Air Force first and foremost.

“You can see the diversity just in the veterans that showed up today,” he said. “We’re all here. We’re all together. We’re better, together.”

First Nations Veteran Emile Highway was stationed overseas three tours during his career in the army. He took part in the walk with his son and grandson, and a large contingent of Indigenous veterans.

Highway said it was important to honour veterans who couldn’t be out walking on Saturday because they didn’t return from their deployment.

“I’m just glad somebody is doing this and somebody is organizing it,” Highway said.

“I appreciate the organizers who put this on every year.”

Highway plans to take part in next year’s veterans walk too. He also wants to organize a breakfast for the First Nations veterans who take part in the walk each year.

“I’ll keep walking as long as I’m able, remembering the boys who served and who are currently serving,” he said. “We can’t forget the ones who are still in there.”

Highway said Indigenous veterans didn’t have to join the Armed Forces, but chose to do so because they loved their land, and to defend the treaties.

When he returned to Canada, he said many people questioned why he would volunteer given the injustices Indigenous people experienced.

“We used to talk about it in the barracks in Germany,” Highway remembered. “Aboriginal people were soldiers in my battalion and they said we’re doing it because we love the land.

“Canada’s not perfect but I mean, especially today’s country, they’re making changes in the system,” he added. “As Aboriginal people we noticed that and we appreciate that.”

Prince Albert Team Lead Madison McKeaveney gave a speech before and after the walk and concluded by thanking the veterans for their service. Her role with River Valley Resilience Retreat is to bring awareness to how families are affected.

They host a Face Everything and Rise (FEAR) peer support meeting for families every Wednesday at Cornerstone Methodist Church, as well as a youth group every Thursday.

The Prince Albert walk was hosted by River Valley Resilience Retreat. The retreat’s mission is to provide secluded and safe respite for those who suffer from PTSI or OSI. Their patrons include responders, veterans, active armed forces, RCMP, police, EMS & fire, including volunteer fire, corrections, social workers, doctors, nurses, emergency dispatch, 911, tow operators, funeral assistants, First Nations crisis/response and all public safety personnel. Net proceeds will be used to help fund their activities.