As thousands gathered in cities across Canada this past weekend to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Freedom Convoy, a large crowd convened at Vaughan Mills – a shopping centre north of Toronto, situated at the southeast quadrant of Highway 400 and Rutherford Road interchange.

Local Vaughan organizers said that they were supporters to come from Ontario cities including Georgina, Simcoe, Muskoka, Barrie, Port Hope, Niagara and Hamilton.

Large trucks, Canadian flags and freedom signs filled the mall parking lot. Shouts for freedom and horn honks interspersed upbeat music playing from a parked flatbed truck.

Many of the attendees present at the anniversary celebration said they participated in the Ottawa Convoy last year. For them, gathering at Vaughan Mills presented an opportunity to commemorate the bravery of the “freedom fighters” on Parliament Hill. 

Evelyn Jaeger and her son-in-law were in Ottawa when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Emergency Measures Act. Jaeger recalls feelings of fear and anxiety during the “intense” night. 

“It was freezing cold and our phone battery died right away,” she said. “As we walked to where the majority of the protesters were, a lady came crying and said ‘go the other way, they are trampling old ladies.’ We worked our way to the front of the line and for hours we were face to face with so many policemen in full battle gear. Even behind us, we saw more policemen with gas masks, big guns and horses. We didn’t know if we were the next ones that they would trample over next.”

Despite the heavy police presence in Ottawa, Jaeger said that there was “a good atmosphere among the people.” She noted many hugs with strangers, tears of joy and a feeling of unity. 

“We will make a point of celebrating this every year, like Remembrance Day. We have to remember how we fought for our freedom. Freedom is not for nothing,” said Jaeger.

Another protestor, who wished to remain anonymous, remarked how “unifying” the Ottawa Convoy had been.

“Although the intensity was palpable, it just brought tears to your eyes to be with another group of people who had been considered outcasts for so long. You no longer felt alone. Just being in the inside of a building where you could eat with other people without being questioned about your vaccination status was touching,” the protestor said.

Anne Marie Shirk, a registered nurse who was fired for not taking the vaccine, went to Ottawa to “help out.” She pointed out similarities between the Ottawa Convoy and the first anniversary celebration event. 

“In Ottawa, it was the best time ever. People were dancing, kids were in the bouncing castles, people were just having a good time smiling and laughing. This weekend– this day right now– is a great reminder of how it was last year. I am proud to be Canadian and I am proud to be here. Everybody here is like family, there is that friend feeling. There are smiling faces and no masks,” she said.

Jodie, who attended the Convoy in 2022, said that the one-year anniversary gathering should send a message to Trudeau. 

“I want him at least to sit down and have a conversation with the people who feel this way. When we first went into Ottawa, he kind of ran away. None of the politicians spoke to anyone. We felt like we didn’t have a voice,” she said. “In a democracy, you are supposed to gather and protest, but they want to take that away from us as well. We need to keep doing this, build our numbers and take the country back from tyranny.”