B.C. now has its own "Highway of Heroes" after the provincial government renamed a stretch of the Trans-Canada to honour 13 soldiers from the province who have died in Afghanistan.
A dedication ceremony was held Thursday to officially rename a section of highway between Langley and Abbotsford, southeast of Vancouver, and a large sign measuring 5-1/2 metres wide will be unveiled on Saturday.
The designation came after a request from Honour House, a non-profit facility opening later this month offering soldiers and first responders, along with their families, a place to stay while receiving medical treatment in Vancouver.
It's the second such designation in Canada. In 2007, the Ontario government attached the "Highway of Heroes" name to the roadway that soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan travel between Canadian Forces Base Trenton and Toronto.
The second "Highway of Heroes" doesn't have the same military connection, but Allan De Genova of Honour House says it's symbolic.
"When people drive by and look at that sign, it just sends you a very good message of how fortunate we are to have these men and women there every day and how sad it was that we lost 13 Canadian Forces members in B.C.," De Genova said in an interview Thursday.
"It's an area of highway identified in the West, as it is in the East. I find it as a wonderful linkage."
De Genova said his group worked with the province to determine the exact spot for the designation and the sign.
Saturday's unveiling will coincide with an annual memorial ride organized by local branch of the Canadian Army Veteran Motorcycle Units.
There have been 156 Canadian casualties in Afghanistan since Canada entered the war in 2002.
De Genova said Honour House will be open later this month. The land and 10-bedroom house were paid for with a $2.3-million interest-free loan from the province, and $500,000 of that was forgiven through a government grant.
Soldiers, first responders and their families will be able to stay there for free. The house's operation will be funded through fundraising and donations.
De Genova said he's received the support of retired general Rick Hillier, former chief of the defence staff, and Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the current chief of the defence staff.
De Genova said his goal is to open similar facilities across Canada.
"Very similar homes, and in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, it's already starting to come along," said De Genova.
"The Canadian Forces men and women and all the first responders will have a place to stay for saying thank you for what they give every day."