By Chris Wattie
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The body of a Canadian soldier shot dead while guarding the country's war memorial in Ottawa began the journey to his hometown on Friday, in a last ride along the nation's "Highway of Heroes."
Police said a home-grown radical, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, on Wednesday before fleeing into the Parliament building where he was shot dead near where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with lawmakers.
Mourners and supporters lined portions of a roughly 500-kilometer (310-mile) route along Lake Ontario where a black hearse accompanied by police vehicles was due to travel to the soldier's home in Hamilton, Ontario.
Comrades from Cirillo's unit, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, dressed in ceremonial kilts, white boots and garters, carried his flag-draped coffin from an Ottawa funeral home to the hearse while bagpipes played.
The "Highway of Heroes" tradition dates to 2002 when Canada’s first war dead began returning from Afghanistan, said Pete Fisher, author of “Highway of Heroes: True Patriot Love,” which was published in 2011.
The route leads to a coroner's office in Toronto from an air base in Trenton, Ontario, where soldiers killed overseas were first taken. Mourners in the past have flocked to overpasses, hanging flags as a sign of respect.
“It’s extremely emotional for everybody who stands on the bridge. Nobody knows what that family’s going through but if in some way we can pass along our respects to them, it brings Canadians closer together,” Fisher said.
“Every soldier that gets killed, that is a tragedy, but if the families can know they are supported, that helps.”
Cirillo was one of two Canadian soldiers killed this week by homegrown radicals, dying in a Wednesday attack two days after a man in Quebec ran over two soldiers with his car, killing one, 53-year-old warrant officer Patrice Vincent.
Hamilton is an industrial city west of Toronto, where supporters bearing flags and wearing patriotic gear including the national hockey team jersey gathered outside his home.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Howard Goller)