North Shore front-line health-care workers and first responders have been given an honour usually reserved only for veterans.
The British Columbia Veterans Commemorative Association bestowed hundreds of Boots on the Ground pins to staff from Lions Gate Hospital, both North Shore police agencies, all three local fire departments and North Shore paramedics at a ceremony outside the hospital Wednesday afternoon.
The group is typically exclusively focused on veterans but, now in what are hopefully the waning days of a global pandemic, they made an exception in light of the heroic efforts made by people in uniform over the course of the COVID-19.
“Veterans have been honoured for many, many, many years at Remembrance Day and at other times, but you people have done things that are unbelievable, and so we want to honour you too,” said Retired Lt.-Col. Archie Steacy, BCVCA president.
The pins feature a combat boot and a Maple Leaf. The symbolism is no accident, Steacy said.
“Not unlike veterans, who voluntarily traded in their civilian shoes for combat boots during war and peace, we now have doctors nurses, firefighters, paramedics, police officers who met the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. You are boots on the ground. Congratulations,” he said.
Sharel Fraser, daughter of a D-Day veteran and director with the association, underscored the sense of ease first responders have been able to give to civilians over the last 16 months.
“COVID has brought to our lives turbulence, strife, pain, grief, uncertainty. The collaboration of your agencies, during all these times, has given us comfort, the solace that we needed in our time of need. We knew that you would be there for us and because of that, you should be proud,” she said. “And we are forever grateful to you.”
The pins were warmly received by delegates from Lions Gate Hospital, District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, West Vancouver Fire and Rescue, North Vancouver City Fire Department, West Vancouver Police Department, North Vancouver RCMP and BC Ambulance Service.
“It’s been a trying time for all our brothers and sisters who are first responders and as well in the health-care industry,” said Insp. Andy Leclair, representing the RCMP. “While many people have been isolating at home and working remotely, all of us on the front line here I've been pulling together.”
Dr. Ross Brown, vice-president for pandemic response for Vancouver Coastal Health, wore his Royal Canadian Navy uniform for the occasion.
“It's a real honour to receive this on behalf of our folks. It's so great to have our fellow first responders on our ground,” he said. “We will pass on these pins and give credit where credit is due. As a veteran myself, it's a special thing to do.”
In keeping with the military metaphor, Wednesday’s ceremony came at the turning of the tide. Sean Parr, interim vice-president of community care for Vancouver Coastal Health, told the gathered dignitaries Lions Gate Hospital, which had the distinction of being the first hospital in Canada to admit a patient for COVID-19 treatment, had just passed a major milestone.
“We have had 493 days of having COVID positive patients in the hospital. As of yesterday, we have zero,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.