Soldiers killed in Afghanistan honoured in emotional Edmonton bridge ceremony

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EDMONTON – On Wednesday, thousands of Canadians from coast to coast paused to remember the soldiers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty.

In Edmonton, a public ceremony at 10:45 a.m. MT at the foot of the Ainsworth Dyer Bridge in Rundle Park commemorated the 158 lives lost during the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

“Every soldier that died has a cross,” said Aart Von Sloten, who began the annual event 13 years ago when his daughter’s fiancé was killed in the line of duty.

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Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer was one of four Canadians killed during a “friendly-fire” incident in Afghanistan in 2002. Their deaths were Canada’s first during the war in Afghanistan, and the first in a combat zone since the Korean War.

READ MORE: Afghanistan veterans find healing in their creative sides

The footbridge over the North Saskatchewan River between Rundle and Gold Bar parks holds special meaning for the Von Sloten and Dyer families, as that was the spot where Ainsworth proposed to his girlfriend Jocelyn Van Sloten before shipping out to Afghanistan.

WATCH: A cross ceremony at the foot of the Ainsworth Dyer Bridge in Rundle Park has become an annual tradition. Reporter Erin Chalmers spoke with Aart Von Sloten, who began the ceremony 13 years ago when his daughter’s fiancé was killed during a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

Instead of celebrating a wedding, Aart Van Sloten began building wooden crosses for every soldier killed in the war-torn country. They held a ceremony, reading out the names of those who died in Afghanistan and placing a cross in their honour.

“I thought, well, maybe we should make this an annual thing,” he said on Wednesday. A group got together to build more crosses, making 158 over the course of the decade-long mission.

READ MORE: Remembrance Day 2015 ceremonies in Edmonton

The ceremony began small; just a few friends and family. But every year it has grown, as more families and friends come to remember their loved ones, and more members of the public come to pay their respects.

Van Sloten says everyone is welcome to attend the casual ceremony, and he encourages families to bring their kids.

“It’s good, because it’s not very formal and we also encourage children to put down crosses. We think it’s a good learning experience for them of course, and it’s well-received by the soldiers who come here, by the public that comes, friends, neighbours and so forth.”

He says it’s very important to teach children about the war because “our freedom depends on it.”

“We have to realize how lucky we are to live in a free country.”

WATCH: A ceremony at the foot of the Ainsworth Dyer Bridge in Rundle Park has become an annual tradition. As Vinesh Pratap explains, the names of those who died in Afghanistan are read out and a cross is placed in their honour. 

Dozens of people gathered at the Ainsworth Dyer Bridge in Edmonton’s Rundle Park Wednesday to honour the soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

Erin Chalmers, Global News

A boy places one of 158 crosses in honour of the 158 soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

Erin Chalmers, Global News

Crosses are place next to the Ainsworth Dyer Bridge to honour the soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

Erin Chalmers, Global News

Corporal Bryce Keller was one of 158 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

Erin Chalmers, Global News

©2015

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