Thousands of people mourned the latest Canadian war casualty on Sunday, in a somber show of support for a 24-year-old soldier who was only days away from a joyful homecoming.

All along the Highway of Heroes, from CFB Trenton to Toronto, people came out in droves to pay their respects to Pte. Kevin McKay.

In Toronto, hundreds of mourners were joined by local firefighters and veterans, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder to welcome McKay back to his home country.

McKay, who was born in the Toronto area, was killed on Thursday evening southwest of Kandahar City by a roadside bomb. He is Canada's 144th military death in Afghanistan.

The soldier's father is Toronto Fire Capt. Fred McKay, and about 200 firefighters gathered to show support for one of their own.

Many of the firefighters showed visible signs of emotion as they saluted the hearse carrying the young soldier's body.

"It's a tragedy when any solider is killed," firefighter Dan Hjelholt told CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness.

"When it's one of our own, from one of our firefighters, it really hits close to home."

Hjelholt works from Fire Station 133, which is the same home station of the elder McKay.

Toronto Fire Chief Bill Stewart said that the Canadian Forces share many important links with the Toronto Fire Services.

"Many of us have served in the Canadian military, and to see someone come home in these conditions as the son of a Toronto firefighter is always difficult," Stewart said.

McKay died in battle only days before his first tour of duty was set to end in Afghanistan. The soldier was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which is based in Edmonton. McKay was born in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Earlier on Sunday, McKay's flag-draped casket arrived at CFB Trenton for a mournful repatriation ceremony.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were two of the dignitaries who were in attendance at CFB Trenton.