While the National March for Life grows every year, mostly through the increased efforts of educators and youth returning after positive previous marches, those who have been in the pro-life trenches in the long haul also continue to make the march a key pro-life event every year. Many of them are excited by the growing numbers of participants, the enthusiasm the young people bring, and the message that larger crowds give to society.

Brian Geraghty of Ottawa recalls the first National March for Life in 1997 when only a few hundred people were on Parliament Hill. “It grew slowly and two years ago there were 5000 people. Last year, it doubled. It is very good to be here and see the truth” about the march with his own eyes. Asked why he continues to come out after 13 years, he pointed to his daughter and said: “For our children, in thanks for the great gift of life.”

Grace Hargrave of Ottawa organized the first pro-life demonstration, the Festival for Life, on Parliament Hill in 1968 and 30 to 35 people attended. She said “we are still right.”

Karen Murawsky, formerly of the public affairs office of Campaign Life Coalition and an organizer of the first national marches for life in the late 1990s, notices a big difference in the mood of the crowd. She said the first march was a somber affair with 700 in attendance, reflecting what Fr. Alphonse de Valk’s insistence that the anniversary of the 1969 Omnibus Bill effectively legalizing abortion on demand “needed a solemn gathering to mark what he called the ‘day of infamy’.”

The first march was organized “and we had no idea how many people would come out.” She said it took a while, but the march has grown and blossomed as schools and youth groups have embraced the event. “It is not a protest – it never was. But the march has changed over the years to become a celebration of life.” She noted that rather than being a solemn occasion, participants are joyful.

Pat Gerretsen, a volunteer in the Toronto offices of CLC, said she and her late husband Peter came to the first National March for Life “because they needed people.” She said there was no indication that 13 years later the march would not only continue to be an annual event but would have grown nearly 15 times larger.

Pat and Hugh Loughran of Mississauga, also attended the first march because “it was an extension” of their pro-life activism and they were asked to attend. Pat said they continue to make the annual trek to Ottawa “because the battle isn’t over,” adding “It is not the sort of thing you step out of.” Hugh said he was glad to “see young people (here) who refuse to be corrupted by lies.”

Joe Bissonnette, a teacher and long-time pro-life activist, brought 80 students from Assumption College in Brantford. He said the reception that he and the students receive has changed over time with MPs being much more welcoming. Noting that many young people are more pro-life than their parents, he called the movement “irrepressible.”

Mary and Pierre Labelle made the ten-hour trip from Cochrane. They attended most of the marches for life. Mary looked at the thousands of young people assembling before the march and said: “It is good to see the replacements … it gives us heart.”

Vicki Gunn is the executive director of the Christian Heritage Party and a familiar sight at the national march. She said she continues to attend because “We have to keep this issue before the government.” She said the “issue of abortion doesn’t go away just because they aren’t talking about it.”

Fr. Tom Lynch, national director of Priests for Life, who has only missed the march when he was in Rome for a few years in the mid-2000s, said, “Any number counts” but that he is glad to see the growing numbers of participants.

“It is more effective every year,” he said. “We haven’t shut up, we won’t lay down or go away.”