OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined a crowd of Canadian veterans and families on Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War at the National War Memorial.

The event included volunteers from Parks Canada dressed in First World War era uniforms, ceremonial music, and a flight demonstration by two S.E. 5 replica planes.

On behalf of all Canadians, Harper laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to commemorate the war and honour all those who have fought for Canada.

"Justice and freedom, democracy and the rule of law, human rights, and human dignity; for a century these are the things for which our fellow citizens—including so many in this room—have fought. And this is the ground on which we will always take our stand," Harper said in a speech at the National War Museum on Sunday afternoon.

He also announced that the sentries who stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will be extending their hours.

"From this day forth, the sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will extend their solemn vigil from Vimy Ridge Day every April until Remembrance Day each fall," he said.

About 60,000 Canadians lost their lives in the First World War. The Tomb of the Unknown soldier at the War Memorial honours all unidentified Canadians who have died in combat.

In total, about 620,000 Canadians enlisted in the First World War and about 420,000 went overseas. Canadian forces faced unexpectedly harsh conditions during the four-year war.

They were the first forces to face poisonous chlorine gas at Ypres, and they won a major victory at Vimy Ridge, gaining the force international recognition. The war is considered a defining event in Canadian history, and part of Canada’s path to independence from Britain.

Many in the audience Sunday had personal ties to the Canadian Forces.

"My father was amongst the first volunteers for the First World War, so he was overseas from 1914 to 1918. He passed away in 1983 and now I hold his medals," Guy Lechance, one of the veterans at the event, said.

Lechance followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the air force between 1959 and 1983, he said. He spent three years in Germany during the Cold War.

Richard Gilman, another attendee, was not a veteran himself, but said his father was a fighter pilot in the Second World War.

Gilman’s brother-in-law also had an interest in flying. He was one of the pilots of the S. E. 5 replica planes that flew over Sunday’s ceremony.

"It was a big thrill for him," said Gilman.

Gilman attended the event with his two grandsons. Jacob, the younger grandson, was 12. He said the message he took away from the event is that "War is not pretty."

The Canadian ceremonies join other events across Canada, such as a tribute in Halifax, where lights will shut off at major landmarks, an ecumenical service at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, and a group of “newsboys” in Toronto, distributing information on the First World War.

There are also commemoration events happening outside of Canada.

In London, thousands of ceramic poppies poured from the Tower of London to remember fallen soldiers. Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, attended ceremonies in Belgium, and Prince Charles and British Prime Minister David Cameron also attended a special church service at Glasgow Cathedral.


      GoC launches World Wars Commemoration period on the centennial of the beginning of the First World War #FWW100