On July 19, four members of the Toronto Police Service embarked to participate alongside 50,000 walkers in the Vierdaagse, an international four-day march in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
This year marked the event’s 100th Anniversary and, after four days of walking in very warm and humid weather, 42,557 walkers were successful, including the four from TPS! Dawn Heighton (32 Division), Marie-Josee Fournier (14 Division), and Caroline de Kloet (Corporate Communications) walked 40km each day, while Steve Henkel (Homicide) walked 55km each day, a special distance only available for the centennial year.
The Vierdaagse began as a training exercise for the Dutch military and quickly expanded to include people and groups from around the world. This includes the 1,500 military members from the Netherlands plus approximately 1,500 other military members from 25 different countries. Other groups, police included, and individuals can apply to participate however, with limited spots available, a lottery system is used to determine who can walk each year. The walk includes four distances: 120 km, 160 km, 200 km and, for the 100th year, the 220km was added. The distance you walk is dependent on your age and gender. The majority who walk are extremely patriotic, carrying flags or wearing traditional outfits or uniforms to make their country known. This year, the TPS group handed out small Canadian flags, pins and other mementos to those who cheered them on throughout the four days.
The Midden-Nederland Politie (Middle Netherlands Police) hosted the four Toronto officers and they walked together as a group in uniform. Each day was a different route through towns and villages near Nijmegen. The group started around 4:15am each morning and were cheered on by over 1 million people who come to support, from start to finish, throughout the four days.
On the third day, the group walked through Groesbeek, the final resting place of many young Canadian soldiers who fought to liberate the Netherlands from occupation in World War II. On the last day, before completing the final five km., the 40-km walkers waited for the entire participating Dutch police, mainly those who had walked the 55-km route to gather so that they, alongside the four Toronto police counterparts, could walk the last five km. together. It was an emotional last stretch, with the rows and rows of supporters singing and dancing to celebrate the completion of this royal march. As tradition goes, gladiolas were handed out to participants by those in the crowd and proudly carried by the marchers for the final stretch.
"This was an amazing experience and I am so proud to have had the opportunity to represent the city of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service, and Canada at such a significant international event," said Constable Caroline de Kloet.
Constable de Kloet's family is originally from Nijmegen and many have participated in the Vierdaagse, including her mother, in 1980, just before her parents immigrated to Canada. As a child, she spoke of supporting the walkers and handing out gladiolas during the final stretch but this year she was honoured, alongside her fellow officers, to be the one receiving them.
The weekend before the Vierdaagse, Toronto officers, along with the Canadian Armed Forces, went to France and took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Vimy Ridge and went to Beaumont Hamel.
If you are interested in participating next year, please contact Const. Dawn Heighton for the details.