Dozens of family members of firefighters who died in the past year gathered to pay tribute at the Canadian Firefighters Memorial ceremony Sunday at LeBreton Flats.
This year's ceremony comes as Canada experiences one of its worst wildfire seasons in history.
More than 15 million hectares have gone up in smoke across the country in 2023, shattering a previous record of 7.6 million hectares in 1989.
So far this year, more than 6,000 wildfires have been reported across Canada, with recent fires breaking out in Yellowknife and parts of British Columbia.
"Over 200,000 people have been evacuated and 16.5 million hectares have already been ravaged by a large number of fires," said Sherry Romanado, MP for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, who gave a keynote address at the memorial ceremony.
"Unfortunately, we have lost firefighters on the front lines of these fires. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of these brave heroes," she added.
People in downtown Kelowna watch the McDougall Creek wildfire burn on Aug. 17, 2023. It's one of the 6,000 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year. (Winston Szeto/CBC)
Funding on the way
The names of 86 firefighters were read out loud – all of whom died this year in the line of duty or from occupational illnesses.
At least four firefighters have died battling wildfires in Canada since July.
Romanado said the federal government has finalized agreements with both B.C. and the Northwest Territories so that they receive a combined $60 million over the next five years to fight wildfires.
A federal government fund devoted to fighting wildfires amidst climate change will also provide $256 million to provinces and territories through to 2027.
The funds will help provide specialized training to firefighters and expand their skills and capabilities, Romanado said.
David Sheen, president of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, says he hopes the ceremony can help families who are grieving. (Nick Persaud/Radio-Canada)
David Sheen, president of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, said the ceremony is meant to recognize the sacrifices of all firefighters, including military, volunteer, and Indigenous firefighters.
"We have over 70 families who have come from Ottawa [and] from right across the country to be here and share with us," Sheen said.
Sheen said he hopes the ceremony can help them with their grieving process.
"It's incredibly significant and it's always hard. I've been doing this for 20 plus years on the foundation and it doesn't get any easier," he said.
'A very emotional day'
Patricia Hill's husband, Ryan, was one of the firefighters honoured Sunday. He was a firefighter with the Ottawa Fire Services and died of brain cancer at 37.
"It's a very emotional day," said Hill, who brought her two young sons along.
Hill said it felt great to see the nationwide support and to meet other families who have gone through similar struggles.
Losing her husband at such a young age has been difficult, she said, and it's still sinking in.
Patricia Hill's husband Ryan Hill was one of the firefighters honoured at this year's memorial ceremony. (Nick Persaud/Radio-Canada)
"It took over 18 months fighting tooth and nail to get my husband's death recognized as an occupational illness from firefighting. When we're trying to grieve and comprehend what we've gone through, it's just stress and incredibly hard on the families," she said.
Hill said she hopes ceremonies like this one put the focus on occupational illnesses connected to firefighting, including cancer or mental health issues.