Canadians are paying respects to the country’s war dead at sombre Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country Friday.
Thousands of people wearing poppies stood in silence as cannons boomed and military aircraft flew past the National War Memorial in Ottawa when the clock on the Peace Tower struck 11 a.m.
Navy Capt. Bonita Mason said a prayer during the ceremony, and noted the ongoing war in Ukraine and the importance of military families while calling on Canadians to set aside their divisions and embrace reconciliation and dialogue.
“In a world fraught with struggle and instability, where war continues to rage in Ukraine, we gather to affirm with one another our determination to remove the barriers of division in a spirit of reconciliation,” Mason said.
“We seek dialogue with one another in all spheres: social, political and religious. That in doing so, we may achieve a lasting peace. May we all strive to continue our efforts to build a better world.”
Rabbi Idan Scher in a benediction noted the sacrifices that those who serve in uniform are often asked to make to protect Canadians’ freedoms, and called on the country to stand behind its veterans.
“Not by simply saying thank you, not by simply supporting our veterans and their families through words, but rather through action, with our time, with our attention and with our resources,” Scher said.
Among those in attendance were Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, and chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was absent from the Ottawa ceremony as he travels to an international summit in Cambodia. His wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their oldest son Xavier did attend.
Before the start of the ceremony, dozens of veterans of different ages and backgrounds marched through the streets of Ottawa alongside serving Armed Forces members to drums and pipes.
At the National War Memorial, a flag that was reportedly carried by a Canadian soldier into battle at Dieppe, France, in August 1942 was displayed, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the raid. A wreath was also laid for Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September.
Similar scenes are playing out at cenotaphs and war memorials across the rest of the country amid a semblance of normalcy following two years of COVID-19 restrictions that included masks and scaled-down parades.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Halifax City Hall on a warm and sunny day to honour Canada’s war dead as members of the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force stood at attention to the mournful sounds of the Last Post.
Gun salutes boomed at 11 a.m. in Fredericton, N.B., as babies in strollers, dogs on leashes and children holding parents’ hands watched the ceremony under partly sunny skies. A few children giggled and held their parents’ hands tighter when the first gun salute went off.
Outside the cenotaph at Old City Hall in Toronto, Alistair Stark, 73, stood in uniform for the city’s ceremony.
“My father’s a war veteran,” Stark said. “I’m not long back from Italy where I was laying a wreath in remembrance of my uncle, who was killed in Italy.”
Stark served in the military reserves for 16 years as part of the 48th Highlanders. His father was born in Scotland and served with the 11th Hussars in the English Regiment.
“(My father) landed at D-Day, I’m very proud of him” said Stark. “My uncle served in Italy for the Black Watch (of the Royal Highland Regiment) and he was killed just outside Monte Cassino. And that’s why I was over there laying a wreath in his memory.”
Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Mayor John Tory were among the dignitaries present at the Toronto ceremony.
“Today our soldiers are deployed around the world to fight for and preserve the freedoms that we enjoy back home,” said Dowdeswell.
“And yet, we cannot and we must not take these freedoms for granted. With all of our talk of building back better after this pandemic, we must prove that we have actually learned the lessons of the past where there’s disagreement. May we spark dialogue. Where there is division, may we always strive to forge unity.”
In Montreal, retired lieutenant-colonel Henry Hall was among those gathered at Place du Canada square. Hall was serving as part of a United Nations mission in the Middle East in 1974 when nine comrades died after their plane was shot down.
“It was a tough go,” Hall said. “It was very difficult, one of the guys was a good friend of ours and I obviously miss him and I think about him all the time.”
He added that he would also be thinking about his two grandfathers who served in the army in the First World War, and his father, who was in the navy in Second World War.
About two thousand people gathered at a convention centre in downtown Winnipeg for an in-person return of the largest Remembrance Day event in the city.
Jane Brown attended for the first time on Friday. Brown, who is the president of the Royal Canadian Legion Provincial Council Ladies Auxiliary, said taking part in the events was nerve-racking.
“It’s just a huge crowd. I’m a small-town girl.”
Brown had an uncle who was killed while serving in the Second World War. She said it’s important to honour those who sacrificed their lives.
“We need to remember and never forget that the sacrifice that was made.”
— With files from Dylan Robertson in Anchorage, Hina Alam in Fredericton, Keith Doucette in Halifax, Jacob Serebrin in Montreal, Tyler Griffith and Jessica Smith in Toronto, and Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg.
The Canadian Press