Ed Stafford has marched in the CNE Warriors Day Parade every year for the last 60 years. Due to COVID-19 and the subsequent CNE cancellation, the 99-year-old World War veteran was unable to march this year. So the Ontario Military Vehicle Association (OMVA) arranged a parade of 10 military vehicles past his home in Etobicoke at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday. Local police escorted the procession. "My goodness, I'm astounded, didn't know what to expect," Stafford told CBC News. "It would've been my 61st time." When asked how he felt about the parade outside home home, Stafford responded, "It's great."
With the pandemic dragging on and a vaccine yet to be found, it's not known if the CNE Warriors Day Parade will resume next year. But that's just what Stafford is hoping for. "Well I hope it starts again next year. And I hope I'll be able to be there ... but I'm 99.5 [years old]," he said with a big laugh. Stafford, who said he was in the Horse Guards in Italy, is one of only two veterans left from the unit. "Well we lost a lot of good guys back there, just doing their job — you know — fighting for what you have today," he said.
The absence of the 2020 parade, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, means that more than 1,200 veterans from across Ontario did not get to make their annual march through the Princes' Gates, which has traditionally taken place the first Saturday of the CNE's opening weekend. But a virtual event continued the tradition with an online tribute to Canadian veterans, and celebration of the CNE's military heritage with photos and videos from past years.
Alicia Cherayil, program manager for Arts and Heritage in the CNE archives, said they decided to go into the archival collection and pull some of the film clips and photos from earlier parades mostly in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. "A lot of people don't know this but the CNE and the military have been connected since its inception really," Cherayil told CBC News. "I think we will always continuously be thankful to everybody who serves in the Canadian military. And I think this is always something that we're going to keep top of mind."
The Warriors Day Parade has been a part of the CNE since 1921, so this would've been its 99th year. "It's our 100th anniversary for the Warrior's Day Parade next year so I think I share the same hope as everybody that we can all continue to be healthy and safe and that we can return to The Ex as a physical space next year and experience it more than just the virtual experiences that we have going on this year," Cherayil said.