Toronto pays tribute to soldiers, home front heroes to mark D-Day's 75th anniversary
Toronto's The Queen's Own Rifles suffered the most casualties of any Canadian unit
Toronto is marking the anniversary of D-Day by honouring the city's soldiers and manufacturers who contributed to the invasion of Normandy 75 years ago today.
"Our pride in them is as strong as it ever was," said Mayor John Tory at a morning ceremony at the Toronto Cenotaph. "Our gratitude remains undiminished."
At least 50 Toronto residents died while storming the French coast on June 6, 1944 — the largest number of dead from any Canadian city.
The Queen's Own Rifles, a Toronto-based regiment, suffered the heaviest casualties of any Canadian unit on D-Day.
Those soldiers, Tory said, "were fighting for their lives, for the lives of our ancestors, and therefore by definition, fighting for all of us."
The invasion of Normandy sparked the liberation of Nazi-controlled Europe and caused a shift in momentum that eventually led to the end of the Second World War.
Capt. Martin Maxwell, who was fighting for a British airborne division at the time, was one of the first Allied troops to arrive at Normandy, landing via glider the night before the invasion.
Maxwell, who now lives in Toronto, was tasked with capturing a bridge to prevent reinforcements from reaching the Nazi defences guarding the coastline.
He remembers the instructions from his commander, which also came with a dire warning.
"'You are the first ones in, so I have to tell you some of you will not be back,'" he recalled in his speech at the ceremony.
Maxwell ended his remarks with a message to young people.
"There are so few of us left, so we are handing over the torch of freedom to you. Hold it high, so others can see how precious freedom is," he said.
Heroes on the home front
Tory also paid tribute to the Torontonians who helped the war effort from home.
"On the home front here in Toronto, thousands of Torontonians worked to support our troops who were fighting on foreign soil, far away from their families and loved ones and friends," he said.
During the war, the Greater Toronto Area manufactured ships, munitions, weapons and planes that were used on the front lines in Europe.
A factory in Malton, for example, produced more than 400 of the Avro Lancaster bombers that Winston Churchill called "the means of victory" against the Axis forces.