A few dozen people gathered around the Estevan's Soldiers' Tree Sunday afternoon. Some were mingling keeping distance, but it was obvious that they all were waiting for something to happen.
All of a sudden all heads turned to the west, as a man with a support boot on his right foot, carrying a big white cross, could be seen walking down Fourth Street approaching the courthouse.
Warren Michael, who is also known as The Old Man, first thought about the cross-country walk aimed at attracting attention to veterans and other important causes 10 years ago, and now his dream came to fruition.
He said that the infamous 2018 comment, made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who stated that some veterans that his government was fighting in court, wanted more than Ottawa could afford, sped up his idea.
As his website says, a "caring Canadian fuelled by courage, strength, faith and love" Michael started his 2020-2021 mission in Kelowna, B.C. He built the wooden nine-foot cross, weighing between 80 and 100 pounds, to help him deliver the message. The cross says, "Veterans are not asking for more than I can give" on the one side and "Rights and Liberty, Truth and Freedoms" on the other.
The Old Man departed from Kelowna in December 2020, leaving his family with two kids behind and sacrificing a family Christmas for a big cause.
He is planning to march the cross across Canada and make it all the way to Ottawa, in this manner raising awareness and funds for veterans, clean drinking water for First Nations, as well as raising autism awareness and also attracting attention to cancer research and mental health issues. The estimated route will have him covering about 4,500 kilometres.
"I just wanted to bring some hope, some faith and some strength back to Canadians, and show our veterans and our First Nations, and the world that Canada does have an identity. It's our First Nations, and it's our veterans," Michael said. "They are the backbone of this country. They deserve our respect, and they deserve to be honoured."
Talking to the Mercury, he said that so far his mission has been "amazing."
"I'm myself a man of a very few words and as another reporter has said I'm a man of great action. I let my action speak for itself, but the support is overwhelming. It's just a blessing in itself. And I just got going," Michael said.
He walks through snow and mud for five to eight hours a day with small breaks, all while carrying the cross on his shoulder. He believes that if every Canadian donates just one dollar, the problems veterans are facing could be solved. And cross helps him deliver that message.
"It's up to us as Canadians to do it ourselves," Michael said.
The cross also has images of poppies, an eagle feather and the medicine wheel for the First Nations. Besides, it has cancer, mental health and autism symbols depicted on it. It also says "RIP Big Guy" on one of the edges. Michael explained that remark.
"The Big Guy is actually right here in my pocket with me on it as well," said Michael pulling a small bag presumably with ashes out of his pocket. "He was a good buddy of mine, fellow Christian and just a guy that loved this country. He passed just the first couple of months of COVID. He had a heart attack. I talked to him about doing this before he passed. And I talked to him about doing it over the years, and he stood behind me all the way with what I was wanting to do … He is with me on this walk, helping me out."
The cross also serves as a donation box. Michael said that he doesn't plan to open it until the mission is completed, so the cross will be getting heavier as he progresses with his mission.
Money raised will be directed to the Veterans Memorial Medical Centre Society and potentially to other organizations, which work in the areas Michael is raising awareness for, including the company that's currently working on getting water for First Nations and others.
He wants to deliver his message to the government. Later on, he plans to replace the panels on the cross with thicker wood and he wants to get Canadians even more involved with his project.
"I'm going to ask Canadians who feel that our government has failed these issues, to come put in a nail or a screw into this piece of history. And once it's full of nails and screws, we are going to fill it with concrete," said Michael.
He doesn't know when and where it will happen, but he said he'll keep going until he achieves the results he is looking for.
Michael added that so far he's felt blessed with the support he's been receiving.
"This is important. This is our history," Michael said. "These things should have never been an issue. It's Canada. It's 2021 now, water never should have been an issue, especially in Canada."
His original route didn't include Estevan, but he said it was the Soldiers' Tree that made him change his plans and come to the Energy City. Robert Rooks, who was among those who gathered to greet Michael on Sunday, gave him a tour of the monument. Lester Hinzman, the man behind this and a number of other war-related Estevan projects, read his poem that can be found on the monument. Marie Calder, the author of The Other Side series, who is currently working on a book about 21 airmen that died in a plane crash in the Estevan area in 1946 also told him about the Forever in the Clouds monument.
Michael ended up staying in Estevan and visiting the monument the next day. (An interview with Calder can be found on The Old Man Facebook page).
After the meeting on Sunday, on his Facebook page, The Old Man said, "Today has been… Wow… Very heartfelt day. A lot of great people today."
He added that he was "blown away" by the Soldiers' Tree, the community and the stories people shared with him.
"It was an honour to come here," said Michael emotionally, thanking everyone who showed interest in his mission.
Michael doesn't have a set date for completing the mission, but he said that so far it's been going a bit faster than he expected as he was trying to make it to some events happening in various communities. He added that in general, he decides on most of his route as he walks, and he goes to the communities where he feels he is needed and where his message needs to be shared.
While in Estevan, Michael also received fur mittens that were given to him "in respect to all First Nations lost in the wars," and a golden eagle feather as gifts from some community members.
Many people who were at the location including an EPS officer donated money to the cause.
After having a bit of a break, Michael headed east again, continuing with the mission and stopping in Oxbow and Carnduff.
A GoFundMe campaign March A Cross Canada - Our Final Stand For Canada that was started in conjunction with the walk had raised over $5,000 toward a $100,000 goal as of Jan. 4. Donations also can be made through the website marchacrosscanada.com.