Remembrance Day ceremonies began in Afghanistan, then continued at home on Friday to honour those who served Canada.

A dozen services were held in Ottawa, including the main wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial. It began just before 11 a.m. ET with the arrival of Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and national Silver Cross mother Patricia Braun, whose son Cpl. David Braun was killed in Afghanistan in 2006 and who was chosen by the Royal Canadian Legion to represent all bereaved mothers at the ceremony.

After two minutes of silence at 11 o'clock, the service included flypasts by military jets and helicopters, the firing of artillery guns and a procession of veterans, cadets and current soldiers, who marched past Johnston and Braun.

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the chief of Canada's defence staff, attended the event. He said it's important to remember that Canadian Forces personnel are always at risk of being deployed on potentially life-threatening operations.

"Militaries never decide where they're going to go. This past year has just reminded us again with operations in Libya that everything is unpredictable," Natynczyk said.

"We still have 1,200 men and women in Kandahar, a dangerous spot, and we have 950 in Kabul.… Wherever we go is dangerous."

Thousands of people showed up for the Ottawa service, including Col. Eric Kenny, the Canadian Forces director of air force readiness, and the son and grandson of military men.

"It's a very special day for me and for all Canadian Forces members and all veterans. It's actually the first time I've been to the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa," Kenny said.

He recalled the tales his grandfather, also a pilot, would tell him of the Second World War. "As a child to have listened to stories that he told and adventures he led during that war was amazing." 

Services across the country observed two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. locally.

It was the last Remembrance Day memorial ever at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, after Canadian troops ended their combat mission there in July, and a final chance for troops to commemorate their 158 comrades who have died during the course of Canada's Afghan deployment since it began in 2002.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, visiting for the ceremony, read aloud all 158 names.

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"It is obviously very poignant. It's a very solemn feeling knowing that with each name, it's piercing the heart of a family to have lost a loved one here," MacKay told reporters. "But there's also an enormous sense of pride that those sacrifices are not in vain."

Canada lost five soldiers in the last year to its Afghanistan mission, including one, Master Cpl. Byron Greff of Lacombe, Alta., in late October — nearly four months after the Canadian Forces combat mission officially ended. Greff was killed in a suicide blast that targeted a NATO bus transporting personnel in Kabul.

Remembrance Day also commemorates Canadians killed in the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the country's various peacekeeping missions over the years.

More than 100,000 Canadians soldiers have died in conflicts since 1899, including:

  • More than 240 in the Boer War.
  • More than 66,000 in the First World War.
  • More than 44,000 in the Second World War.
  • 516 in the Korean War.
  • 121 in peacekeeping missions.

P.O.V.

Tell us who you are remembering on Remembrance Day?

This year is only the second time there are no surviving veterans from the First World War to partake in any ceremonies.

In St. John's, veterans and members of the public gathered for the parade through the downtown capital, led by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary horsemen and including the marching band of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Ceremonies in the Maritimes were hampered by high winds and rain that caused some power outages and flight cancellations. In all three provinces, many Remembrance Day events scheduled to be held outdoors took place inside. The memorial at Halifax's Grand Parade went ahead, though it was shorter.

In Edmonton, students from three schools laid poppies on the graves of 3,700 soldiers as part of an initiative known as No Stone Left Alone.

Vancouver's main ceremony included a special flag handover at the Olympic cauldron, which was lit for three hours before being extinguished as the two-minute silence ended.

Remembrance Day was first held throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919. It marks the armistice to end the First World War, which came into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 of the year prior.

This year's Remembrance Day events coincide with a campaign by Canadian ex-soldiers to denounce major budget slashing at the Veterans Affairs Department. The veterans worry that the $226 million in proposed cuts will substantially affect their benefits, despite assurances to the contrary from the government.