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People & Stories > Hero On The Highway

3 Jul 2013

 Hero on the Highway

When the police show up at your door at about six o'clock in the morning and your son's serving in Afghanistan, you know something bad has happened."

That's Raynald Bouthillier talking about the night he learned his only son Jack was killed in action.

Bouthillier, who runs out of the northern Ontario town of Hearst, was home when the cops showed up but his wife Elaine and daughter Michelle were in Edmonton, visiting Elaine's niece.

It was March 20, 2009. Only three weeks earlier, Jack, 20, had shipped out to Afghanistan on his very first mission.

"I lost of few minutes of what happened next," Bouthillier says, recounting his horror. "The police told me later that I just sat on the stairs crying. I couldn't take it in."

What he was told was this: Trooper Jack "Bouts" Bouthillier of the Royal Canadian Dragoons was killed instantly when the armored vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device (IED.)

Bouthillier then had to phone and tell Jack's mom. By Monday, the three Bouthilliers found themselves at the Canadian forces base in Trenton, from where Jack's body moved along the Highway of Heroes, along with three other of his comrades, also killed the same day.

Trooper Jack Bouthillier's body is now buried back home in Hearst. His deeply religious parents are confident Jack's soul is in Heaven.


Jack's family says it's worth trying to do something for
the people in Afghanistan so that 'Jack didn't die for nothing.'

But emblazoned on the side of their 2007 Pete 379 (No. 409 of the last 1,000 379s ever built) Jack's boyish beaming face is visiting communities and highways and truck stops around Ontario and the Northern United States.

It started with Bouthillier, after the funeral, deciding to put a small image of Jack on the side of the cab.

But a friend convinced him to do something more elaborate.

With the help of the artists at Nord-Est Printing in Hearst and then Creations Jules Internationales in Brossard, Que., the job became a complete wrap. And now, added to Jack's name, are, high up on the back of the sleeper berth, the 131 names of Canada's deceased soldiers.

(While he's not too specific when discussing the cost of the spectacular graphics on his Pete, Bouthillier says with a smile, "this is not a profitable part of my business.")

Neither he nor Elaine have withdrawn support for our troops. In fact, they hope Canada continues its mission so Jack won't have died in vain.

As Raynald told the Globe and Mail at the time of Jack's death, "it doesn't matter how it's going to end, but it's worth trying to do something for the people who are there [in Afghanistan]. Jack didn't die for nothing."

Raynald has been an owner-operator since 1988 and purchased his first truck the same year Jack was born. He no longer drives but he and Elaine run this Pete and seven flatbed trailers. The 2007 Pete, he entrustd to Luis Dufour, who also knew Jack. And Dufour says whenever he wheels the rig into a parking lot, it's an attention magnet.

"You want to empty an office building? Just drive this truck up beside it because that's what happened in Milton a few weeks ago, when I stopped in a parking lot. Everybody came out to look," he says.



Rolling Art: Canadian hero Jack Bouthillier's
memory lives on across highways all over North America

Born two decades ago in Hearst, Jack was named after Elaine's brother. He, too, died young, at 11, suffocating while playing around their father's cement-making operation when Elaine was 13. Elaine says she now understands a bit more how her mother felt, all those years ago.

Still, she says, that doesn't make the pain any easier. After all, this is a boy whose parents home-schooled him and his sister. While other kids were in elementary and junior-high classes, the Bouthillier kids could often be found traveling throughout Ontario and the Northern U.S. with Raynald and Elaine.

Elaine would conduct their formal lessons in the mornings. She says because there are no other kids to distract the students, it's easy to get through the obligatory three-r stuff quickly.

The rest of the days would be open to other, real-life learning. Home-school kids must also pass regular Ministerial exams to prove that their parents are doing as good as, or better than, the regular schools.

And anybody who can remain profitable trucking in a lumber mill town like Hearst should be teaching business at Harvard.

Elaine's two students returned to the classroom for the latter years of high school and scored top marks. Michelle is enrolled in a bilingual university program in Sudbury.

Not only, as Raynald says, did he and Elaine win some very precious moments with their home-schooled kids, and not only did Jack and Michelle experience life like very few others, but there's something almost fateful about Jack's image and patriotic message trucking around the country on a semi.

After our breakfast in Toronto, driver Luis Dufour pulled the bob-tailed Pete out on to the ramp, heading to the 401 to pick up a load in Milton.

As we watched him gear up; he yanks on the air horn. The truck pulls away, the names of the fallen soldiers becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon.

"When I see that truck on the road," Elaine offers, "it makes me sad and proud, all at the same time."

I asked Bouthillier what he thinks when he sees his truck drive by like that.

"Well," Bouthillier says, wiping away a tear, "it doesn't make it any worse."  

Peter Carter