Waterloo Father Organizes Car Rally to Thank First Responders

St. Mary's Hospital. Photo by Sarah A.

On the evening of Saturday, April 18th, a parade of cars drove past Kitchener and Waterloo’s fire stations, police stations, long-term care centers, and hospitals to show support for front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The parade, hosted and coordinated by Craig Ainsworth who works as a dispatcher in the trucking industry, was planned and carried out with just 24 hours notice. The Waterloo man established a route past predetermined destinations in the area and posted the event on Facebook to encourage participation from locals.

Craig Ainsworth sits in his van alongside wife and children after Saturday’s parade.

Craig had been hoping for a larger turn-out, but given the short turn around time and the fear of breaking current laws surrounding physical distancing, he wasn’t expecting more than his immediate family. “I was prepared to do it alone. I am happy that I didn’t have to,” he said in an interview with FJORD.

Craig’s inspiration for this parade came from his younger sister, Carrie Henrich, who works at St. Mary’s Hospital as a switchboard operator, “I get to work from home in my underwear with my family. My sister and her colleagues are out there where the disease is. They are the ones, like my drivers, who are at risk facing this demon daily. I can’t necessarily thank each truck driver, cleaning staff, scientist, factory worker, et cetera, but I can try to thank some of our front line works and our first responders who always face dangers daily. But this is above their normal call of duty.”

The parade route included both hospitals within Kitchener and Waterloo as well as most police and fire stations. On the parade route, a special stop was made outside of Carrie’s apartment to personally thank her for all she has done during the pandemic. Initially, she felt a bit embarrassed because she isn’t used to being the centre of attention; however, she was soon overcome with many emotions.

Switchboard operator Carrie Henrich records parade of cars outside her apartment. Video by Carrie Henrich.

Following the event, Carrie wrote in a Facebook post: “I cannot thank the community enough for the love and support we’ve been shown. When walking through those hospital doors every shift our stomachs do a little flip of fear and our brains say, ‘we got this.’ When we leave and get outside and remove our masks, we take a big breath of air in that we made it through another day. When we see the wonderful things being done for us, to thank us, trust me when I say it has helped tremendously to give us the strength to continue to walk through those doors every day. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

The parade began in Waterloo shortly after 7 pm. The fleet of about eight or so cars headed towards the Waterloo fire headquarters, passed the Waterloo police detachment, and continued on to another Waterloo fire station before reaching Grand River Hospital. After a brief stop there, the parade continued through Kitchener, passing the Kitchener police detachment and St. Mary’s Hospital, then made a detour to reach the Forest Heights Long-Term Care facility where one of the breakouts of the virus is. The parade ended at the Kitchener fire headquarters. While this route did not include every station or long-term care facility in the twin cities, there are plans to include more in future as well as add routes in Cambridge, Guelph, and Fergus.

To maintain physical distancing laws, expectations were clearly laid out for all participants. They were told not to leave their vehicles in order to comply with the two meters apart rule. To further comply, two police officers were contacted to confirm that the parade was legal. Craig made sure to investigate rules such as noise from vehicles.

Carrie recommends that the public continue to stay home and washes their hands often. Only go out for essentials, and when in stores, follow the safety measures they are implementing. If you start to feel any symptoms, quarantine yourself from everyone and call Waterloo Public Health about being tested.

“Rest at home is better than rest at peace,” she advises.