HomeWorld NewsCanada newsScaled-down ceremonies mark Remembrance Day across Canada

Scaled-down ceremonies mark Remembrance Day across Canada

The boom of a gun rang out in the sky above Ottawa at 11 a.m. ET to mark the start of a moment of silence, but the tens of thousands of people who normally gather to mark Remembrance Day in the nation’s capital weren’t there in person to hear it.

Instead, a much smaller crowd of a couple of hundred dignitaries, active service members, veterans and members of the public gathered at the National War Memorial while Canadians across the country tuned in to the ceremony online or on TV.

The scaled-down ceremony in Ottawa reflected the need to avoid large gatherings because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s incredibly important that no matter what is going on we remember our veterans, we remember this moment, we have that moment of silence,” said Gen. Johnathan Vance, the country’s top military commander. 

“It’s comforting to people that we can still do some of these normal, important national moments even though there’s a pandemic.”

The ceremony featured some traditional elements — including the playing of the Last Post and the ceremonial laying of wreaths at the foot of the memorial — while others were cancelled or scaled back.

A lone singer from the Ottawa Children’s choir sang O Canada instead of the usual chorus of voices from  the choir that sing the national anthem.

Scaled-down ceremonies mark Remembrance Day across Canada
People take part in Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Grand Parade in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

There was a special emphasis on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War after many commemorations planned for earlier this year in Europe and elsewhere were cancelled because of the pandemic.

But most observances of Canada’s wartime sacrifices are expected to be extremely small after the Royal Canadian Legion explicitly discouraged Canadians from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies, instead asking people to watch TV or tune in online. Around 30,000 people normally turn out for the national ceremony.

“It’s completely against what we [normally] want … but this year is a completely different situation. Everybody’s health is in jeopardy being in close quarters. We don’t want any sort of spread of the disease due to this particular remembrance ceremony,” said Danny Martin, who organized the ceremony in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at the National War Memorial Wednesday morning, along with his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Both wore masks, as did others in attendance.

Other participants at the ceremony near Parliament Hill, where a crowd of thousands normally turns out to watch the solemn events, included Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Debbie Sullivan, this year’s Silver Cross Mother.

Sullivan’s son, Chris Saunders, was a naval officer who was killed after a fire broke out on HMCS Chicoutimi, a submarine that was on its way to Canada in October 2004.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, also attended in person. There was a small military parade with a band, but no parade of veterans down the street.

There was a special emphasis on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War after many commemorations planned for earlier this year in Europe and elsewhere were cancelled because of the pandemic.

But most observances of Canada’s wartime sacrifices are expected to be extremely small after the Royal Canadian Legion explicitly discouraged Canadians from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies, instead asking people to watch TV or tune in online.

“It’s completely against what we [normally] want … but this year is a completely different situation. Everybody’s health is in jeopardy being in close quarters. We don’t want any sort of spread of the disease due to this particular remembrance ceremony,” said Danny Martin, who organized the ceremony in Ottawa.

Many other legion branches across the country have also prepared stripped-down ceremonies, with parades by veterans and serving military personnel cancelled and wreaths laid before the events.

Private ceremonies are also being planned by long-term care facilities that are home to some of Canada’s oldest surviving veterans, many of whom might normally attend a local commemoration but who are at particularly high risk for COVID-19.

In a statement issued earlier Wednesday, Trudeau had encouraged Canadians to mark Remembrance Day despite the pandemic.

“Even if we are not able to gather in person today, we can still take the time to honour and remember our veterans and the fallen, especially this year as we mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War,” Trudeau said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole echoed the sentiment in a Wednesday-morning statement.

“Reflection, remembrance, and respect — these are not actions that can only happen during parades or at cenotaphs. They are emotional acts we will uphold during a year when Canadians have dedicated themselves to adapting and persevering through these challenging times,” he said.

Payette released a video message featuring interviews with Second World War veterans. 

“It’s been 75 years since the end of the Second World War. Our veterans won many battles at great sacrifice. Over 43,000 Canadians died. Many more came home wounded and carrying psychological scars from years of conflict, something that wasn’t talked about much at the time,” Payette said.

“We remember them. Today and always.”

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Modest ceremony in St. John’s

A modest crowd gathered around the National War Memorial in St. John’s Wednesday morning. They lifted their heads following two minutes of silence as a Cormorant helicopter soared over the harbour and the memorial below.

Residents of St. John’s were asked to observe the 11 a.m. Remembrance Day moment of silence from their doorways this year, to keep safe in the global pandemic. Still, about 100 onlookers gathered along Water and Duckworth Streets by the memorial to pay their respects to soldiers lost in war. They wore masks as they bowed their heads, distanced from each other.

Derek Windsor attended with a picture of his father, Harold, in hand. Harold Windsor served for three years in the Korean War and passed away in 2011 at the age of 79.

“I know social distancing is important but I really felt it important to remember him today,” said Windsor. “I really hope that we’re able to get back to some sort of normal … It’s really important that we’re here as a group of citizens to make sure that we remember.”

Premier Andrew Furey and federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan laid wreaths of the foot of the memorial as cannon shots echoed out over the water and through The Narrows.




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