Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition grounds were a sea of red Friday as hundreds of people gathered in a show of support for Canadian soldiers.

Those donning red shirts to show their support at the CNE for "Red Friday" included Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and broadcaster Don Cherry.

"The rally today means so much to our troops, it means so much to the men and women who are working hard to protect us, to safeguard our freedoms and the lives of the people in Afghanistan and to those who want to live in an open and free country like ours," MacKay told the crowd.

"Being here today shows that we greatly, deeply appreciate their work. Being here means that you recognize the tremendous sacrifices that go along with this mission," MacKay said.

Hillier echoed MacKay's thanks to the crowd and said there is no doubt that the troops in Afghanistan will be appreciative of the rally and mass showing of support.

"They will have seen picture of this rally, they will have seen video footage of it, they will have heard about it by word of mouth, on email, on the Internet and through phone calls back home," Hillier said Friday.

"What that does is convince them that when they're 12,000 kilometres away from home and when you're on a dusty, dirty and dangerous trail, and when you're walking that trail doing your mission; Canadians are walking with them."

The rally was started in April 2006 by the wives of two Canadian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

Supporters of the Canadian Forces are asked to wear red on Fridays as a symbolic remembrance of fallen soldiers.

"The support is a wonderfully nice gift from Canadians to show on a weekly basis that hey, we are thinking about you," Lisa Miller, one Red Friday organizer, told CTV News on Thursday.

A number of rallies have since been staged including a massive show of support on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last year that brought out more than 10,000 people.

Organizers are anticipating Friday's rally could bring thousands of red-clad supporters to the CNE.

"If we can beat Ottawa, that's good news for me," Capt. Wayne Johnston told CTV News on Friday.

Friday's rally is being billed as a celebration and a chance to educate the general public on the work of the Canadian Forces.

"We have 27,000 square feet of interactive display with everything from a Leopard tank to naval displays to aircraft displays. We are indeed recruiting," Johnston said.

The rally comes as the bodies of two Canadian soldiers began the journey home from Afghanistan on Friday.

The deaths of Master Warrant Officer Mario Mercier and Master Cpl. Christian Duchesne raise Canada's military death toll in Afghanistan to 69 since 2002.

Duchesne was a member of the 5th Field Ambulance and Mercier was a member of the Royal 22nd Regiment.

With reports from CTV's Naomi Parness and John Musselman