Ted Canada is a linebacker of a man, solid and upright. Fitting, because that's what he represents to his large extended family: a pillar. A SEPTA bus driver and community activist, he's also his family's patriarch, though he's only 45.

But even a pillar can take only so much. When tragedy after tragedy takes its best shot, even the most steadfast can crumble. And considering how much Canada has had to endure, it's a wonder he hasn't turned to dust.

Yesterday, Canada made plans to bury three loved ones: his daughter Latoya Smith, 22, and his granddaughters Aaliyah Griffin, 6, and Remedy Smith, 11 months.

All three, along with neighbor Gina Marie Rosario, 7, who lived two doors down, were victims of split-second death, killed when a speeding, fleeing car plowed them over on a sidewalk in front of Aaliyah's home on a sultry weekday evening in Feltonville.

"It's unbelievable," said Canada. "You want to wake up and find out it's a dream. I lost three people - and for what?"

It's always hardest on the ones left behind. Canada knows. Making funeral arrangements has become an all-too-familiar ritual.

In 2005, his 18-year-old son, Lamar, was killed - shot 18 times as he walked the streets of North Philadelphia.

When Canada got the call, he said, "It was the worst day of my life. It felt like my soul was empty." He'd lost the son who thought he was too strict, the son he'd raised by himself for most of his young life.

Soon after, Canada joined Men United for a Better Philadelphia, a community advocacy group that works to rid neighborhoods of gun violence.

But then, in 2007, tragedy struck again. Another of Canada's granddaughters, 3-year-old Kamiya Jeffrey, died after getting hit by a car.

"At least there was closure with Kamiya, because she had rushed into the street. But this -" Canada says, gesturing to the growing stuffed-animal memorial next to his daughter's home, its dislodged steps a grim reminder of the violent crash. "If I didn't have faith, I don't know if I could make it."

Yesterday was to have been Remedy Smith's first birthday. A big party was being planned.

But the toddler never lived to see it.

For most people, just the thought of it would be too heartbreaking to take. Yet Canada stood stoically and patiently yesterday, giving interviews, graciously accepting condolences, and taking cards from community-assistance groups.

It was only when he walked around the corner, away from family members and TV cameras, that the tears started to fall from behind his sun-tinted glasses.

"I have so much frustration in me, but I have to be strong for my family. They need me."

Still, when Canada thinks about the senselessness of the devastating crash - how both suspects were out on the street despite outstanding warrants, and how Donta Cradock, 18, the alleged driver, had been AWOL from a Pittsburgh-area juvenile facility since April 15 - he couldn't help but ask "what if."

"The system failed," Canada said. "The cops did their job. They arrested these guys, and put them in jail, but they can't keep them in jail.

"The judicial system and the court system have to step up. ... We need to keep these people in jail to keep them from hurting people."

Despite such a horrific personal tragedy, Canada is moved to help others.

"I can't give up," he said. "I have to do what God put me on this Earth to do."

The urge that moved him to join Men United after his son's death is pushing him to create a new organization now - even as he prepares to bury more loved ones.

The group, he says, will be called Fathers Fed Up. Canada envisions its being a grief-support group for men, much like Mothers in Charge.

The father of nine believes Fathers Fed Up will be just what men need.

"Men need to be around other men so they can say what they feel. We men don't feel like we can cry in front of the ladies. We need men to support each other."

And then his voice broke.

Sadly, the first members of the organization, he said, would be himself and his son - little Aaliyah's father.

Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Read her work: http//go.philly.com/annette