Canada plans to deploy 1,000 soldiers to Haiti to help in relief efforts, and two Canadian Forces ships are already rushing towards the quake-stricken country to deliver vital aid.

The soldiers will come from bases across the country, including CFB Valcartier in Quebec, CTV News has learned. An official announcement is expected sometime this weekend.

Navy vessels HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax departed for Port-au-Prince on Thursday, loaded with emergency supplies and equipment. The ships are expected to arrive in three to four days, Defence Minister Peter MacKay CTV News Channel.

Meanwhile at CFB Trenton, east of Toronto, another military aircraft was due to depart late Friday afternoon. The plane will transport supplies for Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and additional search and rescue technicians to Port-au-Prince, Lt. Col. David Murphy said.

As with all of the military aircraft that have been making the trip to Haiti over the past 12 to 24 hours, it will return with Canadian evacuees from the crippled Caribbean country, Murphy told CTV News Channel.

"The crews coming back have been saying it is a very emotional task," he said.

Murphy added that traffic congestion problems at the airport in Port-au-Prince was reportedly easing as the U.S. military, which has taken control of Haitian airspace, worked to co-ordinate flight arrivals and departures.

Canada's aid effort to Haiti is multi-pronged. In addition to the deployment of DART, $5 million in initial funding and efforts by dozens of non-governmental organizations, visa exemptions have now been put in place for Russian planes delivering aid to Haiti, via Canada.

CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported Friday that Russian Antonov cargo planes refuelling at Gander, N.L., en route to Haiti, will not require visas in order to land.

Capt. Art McDonald, the Canadian Task Group Commander of both HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax, said Friday that he expects to arrive in port on Tuesday, and to begin delivering help immediately.

He spoke to CTV's Canada AM from HMCS Athabaskan, which is carrying a Sea King helicopter.

"When we arrive we're going to bring some unique maritime capabilities, specifically we can offer Haiti the light engineering kind of work -- clearing roads and enabling critical infrastructure so aid can flow through," McDonald said.

"And we can do that without going through the airport at Port-au-Prince and that will be a significant advantage to the force as we try to render aid throughout the region."

Both ships departed Halifax harbour at 2 p.m. on Thursday after an effort to prepare the ships almost overnight for what is expected to be a two-month deployment.

They were loaded with construction equipment such as chainsaws and concrete cutters, as well as food and supplies for more than 500 sailors who will be clearing rubble and removing bodies from collapsed buildings as part of their work.

Rather than delivering food or medical aid, the ships' crews will be focused on "light engineering" work that will allow other aid agencies to deliver their supplies to those who need it.

HMCS Halifax was made sail-ready just 24 hours after it was recalled to port following the earthquake. McDonald said the turnaround was incredible.

"(Thursday) was a great day because we were able to get two Canadian ships with over 500 skilled sailors and all kinds of stuff out the door en route to Haiti," he said.

While still in port, the focus was on ensuring the ships would be prepared for any situation the crews might encounter in Haiti, McDonald said.

Now that they are en route the focus has shifted to planning and strategizing "so when we arrive on Tuesday we can have effect, we can start to make a difference in the lives of people in Haiti," McDonald said.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay saw the Athabaskan off on Thursday, saying the crews hit the ground running because "that's what the navy does."

Canadians flood charities with donations

Meanwhile, charities have received an overwhelming response from Canadians who have generously opened up their wallets to help Haiti.

CTV's Robert Fife reported late Friday that Canadians had donated $24 million to official charities over a span of just 24 hours.

The federal government has promised to match all donations made by the public, up to $50 million.

Money is being raised by everyone from children to Bay Street executives. On Thursday night, nearly $1 million was raised by mining magnates at the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame dinner in Toronto.

"We raised approximately $900,000 between soup and dessert," Ed Thompson, the group's director and treasurer, told CTV News Channel's Power Play on Friday.

The donations happened spontaneously. Pierre Lassonde, chair of Franco-Nevada Corp., told the crowd: "It might be a good occasion for us mining people to show our compassion for these people and also our generosity."

The head table got the ball rolling with a $150,000 donation. Lassonde and Thompson each donated $25,000. The other 80 tables were publicly challenged to make their own donations, Thompson said.

The group will donate the money to the Canadian Red Cross.