Canadians honour war dead in ceremonies across the country
Published Sunday, November 11, 2012 9:40AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 10:14PM EST
Canada’s war dead were honoured Sunday in Remembrance Day tributes across the country, ranging from small gestures of respect to a grand ceremony in the nation’s capital.
The focal point of the proceedings was in Ottawa, where crowds of people sporting poppies on their lapels gathered behind barricades at the National War Memorial to watch a service attended by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.
Uniformed military personnel stood next to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, symbolic of more than 25,000 Canadian service members who have no grave. The main event began shortly after 10 a.m. with scores of veterans and pipers marching through city streets to Confederation Square.
A moment of silence took place at 11 a.m., moments after the “Last Post” bugle call floated over the crowd. Blank rounds were fired from a howitzer artillery gun to mark the end of the two minutes.
Shortly after, several individuals came forward to lay wreaths in front of the cenotaph. Among them was new defence chief Gen. Tom Lawson and Roxanne Priede, this year’s National Silver Cross Mother.
Priede’s son, Master Corporal Darrell Jason Priede, died in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan five years ago.
Bag-pipers and the Ottawa Children’s Choir could be heard as more and more individuals, including city representatives, came forward to lay wreaths.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka then recited a benediction prayer to the crowd, before urging everyone to join him in exclaiming “Thank you, dear veterans!” The audience responded unreservedly.
In a statement issued ahead of the ceremony, Gov.-Gen. Johnston said he has the “utmost respect” for everyone that has served or is serving in the Canadian Forces.
“These courageous men and women truly embody the love for one’s country,” he said in the prepared remarks. “It is thanks to them and to the sacrifices that they and their families have made that we are privileged to live in a free and democratic society.”
Meanwhile, thousands gathered in front of Toronto’s Old City Hall for a Remembrance Day service. Blocks away at Queen’s Park, the province hosted its own ceremony, including a recitation of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s renowned poem “In Flanders Fields.”
“Every night I dream of killing and killing and killing and killing,” Second World War veteran Peter Silverman told CTV Toronto during the ceremony.
“Children, babies perished for nothing. A day like today reinforces that the fight was worthwhile.”
In Montreal, thousands attended Remembrance Day ceremonies at McGill University, as well as at the Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Que.
Wreath-laying ceremonies also took place in Western Canada, with roughly 7,000 people gathering at Saskatoon’s Credit Union Centre for the largest indoor Remembrance Day ceremony nationwide.
In Winnipeg, despite an overnight snowstorm, 3,000 people gathered at the city’s convention centre.
It was a last chance to see Korean War veteran John Gillis, who has hosted the Remembrance Day ceremony for almost two decades.
At 79, Gillis is stepping down as host of the ceremony because of the physical strains of emceeing the event.
Although Gillis was deployed to Korea in 1951, the memories were still painful for him to recall.
“I really don’t want to talk about what we did there. It was good, but it wasn’t good for us,” he said.
Further east, in the Maritimes, a number of tributes took place at various legions, including a parade and large indoor service at the Moncton Coliseum in Moncton, N.B., and a similar event at the Joan Harris Cruise Pavillion in Sydney, N.S.
In Saint John, N.B., crowds gathered at an uptown arena for music and other planned activities. The 3rd Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery and the Simonds Lions Caledonian Pipe Band were among those in attendance.
“Today Canadians gather in solemn reflection on the tremendous sacrifices made by our women and men in uniform, both past and present,” Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said a prepared statement.
“We honour with dignity all those Canadian veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may continue to live in peace and freedom.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is concluding a trade mission in Asia, honoured Canada’s veterans in Hong Kong Sunday by visiting a cemetery where 283 Canadian service members are buried.
In a joint statement, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and associate minister Bernard Valcourt stressed the importance of Remembrance Day as wars continue to be fought.
“Canada remembers, because there are still conflicts. Heroic men and women go to war for the benefit of Canada and the rest of the world, and some are lost,” the statement read. “Would that this did not happen, but until the last war is fought, lest we forget.”