Remembrance Day helped one Sri Lankan immigrant develop his Canadian identity

Vathanan Jegatheesan shares his first memories of understanding the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lt.-Col. John McCrae.

Vathanan Jegatheesan says the first time he felt Canadian was during Remembrance Day

Vathanan Jegatheesan commemorated Remembrance Day this year by wearing the poppy close to his heart and participating in a moment of silence to remember the 117,000 Canadians who gave up their lives for their country. (Courtesy of Vathanan Jegatheesan)

Vathanan Jegatheesan was in the third grade when he first felt a sense of connection to Remembrance Day.

The 30-year-old immigrated to Canada in 1990 as a refugee from Jaffna province in Sri Lanka. His family was fleeing the country's civil war.

"I remember every November, more specifically around Remembrance Day, the teachers used to assign us the task of creating poppies with construction paper... and we used to cut it out and stick it around the walls," said Jegatheesan, whose family first settled in Toronto's Flemingdon Park neighbourhood when he was 4.

"They had the poem In Flanders Fields in a poster all over the school. I remember reading it, I remember seeing commercials on TV that explained the In Flanders Fields poem, but I didn't understand the significance of the poem and the symbolism behind what the poem was talking about until we had members of the Canadian Armed Forces come to our school to give the presentation about the importance of Remembrance Day." 

Remembrance Day's Canadian identity

Vathanan Jegatheesan says Lt.-Col. John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders Fields' recited during Remembrance Day helped him develop a deeper understanding of his Canadian identity. ( Associated Press)

Flemingdon Park is a community made up of over 70 per cent new immigrants. Jegatheesan recalled on Remembrance Day 22 years ago, Grenoble Public School asked members of the Canadian Armed Forces to join their assembly at 11 a.m. 

He told CBC News: "Everyone in that room was a new immigrant like myself." Despite that, "the soldier said that every person in that room is just as much Canadian as he is."

"It was was at that moment that I remember my first Canadian identity sparking in my young mind," he said. "I never felt like an outsider but it was at that moment when the soldier said that, that I felt a sense of pride, a sense of inclusion."

Since then, Jegatheesan says Remembrance Day "holds a special place in my heart."

"It reminds me of the freedom and the privilege that I have, that I necessarily didn't have where I came from, where a lot of people left in seek of refuge, and Canada accepted us with open arms." 

With files from Metro Morning