Keynote address at the 14th annual Canadian Firefighters Memorial Ceremony, on the inaugural Firefighters' National Memorial Day

Speech

Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Ottawa, Ontario
September 10, 2017

Mike, thank you very much.  Good morning everyone.

Captain Kirkpatrick, Halifax Chief Gray, Halifax Deputy Mayor Craig, my colleague Catherine McKenna— who this week became a firefighter herself in her responsibility for Parks Canada as a blaze threatened Waterton National Park—ladies and gentlemen, as we gather this morning on the traditional and historic lands of indigenous peoples, I am honoured to bring you the greetings and good wishes of Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada.

And thank you once again to Bob and to the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation for all of their efforts in making this memorial event possible year after year and inviting the Government of Canada to take part.  It is indeed humbling to join the firefighters, their families and loved ones and people from across the country at this very impressive national memorial site to remember and pay tribute to those who have fallen in the line of duty.

Today, we mark that occasion with several significant milestones.  As has been so profoundly mentioned already, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Halifax explosion, a century ago, in December of 1917, after the Canadian World War I triumphs at Vimy and Passchendaele—back here at home, the collision of the SS Mont-Blanc, the SS Imo triggered an eruption of 3,000 tonnes of munitions in the harbour at Halifax.  And to this day, it does remain the largest man-made explosion ever in this country.

Over 1,600 lives were lost, nearly 9,000 more suffered life-threatening injuries.  And that day also witnessed the largest loss of firefighters in one single event in Canadian history, the Halifax Nine.  Canadians are deeply honoured that the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service graciously agreed to host this memorial weekend as a poignant tribute to the memory of the Halifax Nine and to a tragic episode in our country's history.  Acting Chief Gray and the proud women and men here from Halifax, thank you for your service.

And as you know, this year's memorial is special for another reason.  While for more than a decade, Bob and the Fallen Firefighters Foundation have made this day the Sunday as close as possible to September 11th, a solemn day to remember.  Canada as a nation has never had a formally established national day designated to honour and remember the sacrifices of firefighters.  But now we do.

Last month, the Government of Canada announced that the second Sunday in September of each year has now been officially designated Firefighters National Memorial Day.

Today, September 10, 2017, we observe this day for the very first time.  At long last, we are catching up to the Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  Every year, on the second Sunday in September, the Canadian flag, which if you look carefully, you can see atop the Peace Tower over my shoulder, the Canadian flag will fly at half-mast on all federal buildings and establishments, including the Peace Tower, from sunrise to sunset.

Half-masting is a rare honour, but in this case, richly deserved.  Canadians in communities across the country will see the flag lowered at their local post office or the local detachment of the RCMP, as well as on Parliament Hill and I hope they will ask why.  And when they learn it's for fallen firefighters, I hope Canadians will think of all those incredibly brave and skillful women and men on whom we depend every day in all of our communities to keep us safe, and especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Today, together with their families, their departments, their communities and their country, we honour all of the fallen.  And most recently, the new names added to this memorial wall:  Ernie, Terry, Jason, Gino, Scott, Steven, Patrick, Donald, Lenard, Robert, Patrick (again), Dennis, and Jeffrey.  They and their comrades and all that they represent are remembered as selfless guardians of their communities.

We remember their courage and their strength and their humility.  We also remember that fallen firefighters are moms and dads, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends.  Both in and out of uniform, we remember them as proud Canadians reflecting the very best of Canadian values, dedicated to helping others even when facing the greatest of dangers themselves.

This is a solemn place to remember and the memorial is a moving tribute.  The pole, the statue created in Red Deer, Alberta points to the engraved names of the fallen carved in granite from Quebec and Ontario.

We stand in a part of Ottawa that would have been destroyed by the great fire from Hull nearly a century ago were it not for firefighters' vigilance and resolve.  And we are joined today by valiant firefighters who have fought this country's most severe wildfires, day and night through mud and ash and smoke and heat and constant danger.  Their efforts continue today in British Columbia and in Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as they did in Fort McMurray a year ago.

You are our heroes and you make us proud.  As we pause in reflection on this important day, we stand strong in our resolve to always remember those we have lost with the utmost of gratitude and respect.

Thank you.  We will never forget them.  Never. 


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