05/09/2014 02:57 EDT | Updated 07/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Military band leads parade to ceremony honouring Afghanistan veterans in Halifax

HALIFAX - The sound of blaring horns and snare drum rolls echoed Friday through downtown Halifax, leading a parade of uniformed men and women to a ceremony honouring those who served in the Afghanistan war.

Crowds of people filled the city's Grand Parade square under cloudless skies on the National Day of Honour marking the end of Canada's military efforts in the South Asian country.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant were among those who bowed their heads for two minutes of silence.

Rear-Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, spoke of the successes of the Afghanistan mission during a speech to the crowd and thanked Canadians for supporting those who served.

"Our men and women in uniform helped secure Afghanistan so that Afghans could live better lives," said Newton near a cenotaph honouring veterans of the first and second world wars and the Korean war.

"While there is still much to be done, after so many years of civil war and oppression, Afghanistan is back on a path to progress."

MacKay agreed that Afghanistan is now a better place because of Canada's efforts in the 12-year war and paid respect to the 158 Canadian Forces personnel who gave their lives.

"Canada's contribution was more than a commitment of time and resources," MacKay said.

"Some gave all. Many came home forever changed by their service. To those individuals, we owe the greatest honour and debt."

The crowd included family members of two Nova Scotians killed during the mission: Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, Canada's only sailor to die in Afghanistan after the blast of an improvised explosive device in May 2010, and Sgt. James MacNeil, who died a month later also from an IED.

In Prince Edward Island, Premier Robert Ghiz also offered his praise for the contributions of the Canadian military during the lengthy war.

"It is a chance to thank those that fought, remember those that fell, and recognize the families and friends that supported them along the way," Ghiz said in statement.

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