Nfld. & Labrador

Stay home for Remembrance Day this year, asks legion, and pay private respects

Remembrance Day ceremonies are scaled back this year, but the Royal Canadian Legion is still looking for donations during its annual poppy campaign.

'Two minutes of silence, wear a poppy, that's all we ask,' says branch member

Berkley Lawrence of the Royal Canadian Legion is asking people to observe Remembrance Day from home this year. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Remembrance Day ceremonies in Newfoundland and Labrador are being scaled back this year, but amid the pandemic the Royal Canadian Legion is counting on the public's support more than ever.

Ceremonies on Nov. 11 this year will be largely private affairs, as mass gatherings are discouraged, similar to July's Memorial Day events.

In St. John's, there will be no parades and no bands, and the public is being encouraged not to go to the National War Memorial at 11 a.m. for the ceremony, said Berkley Lawrence, the poppy and remembrance chair of the Royal Canadian Legion.

If people do want to pay their respects, he said, plan individual trips throughout the remainder of the day to avoid crowding at the regular sites.

"We prefer people just stay away from the crowds and follow the regulations," he said. 

"There will be a service down at the National War Memorial, up at the Field of Honour, as per normal, except it'll only be three or four people."

The public was asked not to attend July's Memorial Day ceremony in St. John's, but a few passersby paid their respects. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Ways to remember

In a press release Monday, the City of St. John's encouraged citizens to observe a moment of silence from their own front door.

"We want to provide an alternate and safe way for people to pay their respects, while also maintaining safe distancing and respecting health guidelines," said Mayor Danny Breen in the release.

"At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, we ask that you step outside the front door of your home and observe two minutes of silence for our veterans, our fallen soldiers and those who continue to serve."

The city is also encouraging residents to decorate windows and doors with poppies as a safe way to participate in Remembrance Day.

Corner Brook has also cancelled its Remembrance Day parade, with a private wreath-laying ceremony in its place.

Lawrence said it's disappointing there can't be large gatherings this year, as he himself is the grandson of a First World War veteran who served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. 

But, said Lawrence, people can still remember, even if they aren't standing at the foot of a war memorial on Nov. 11. 

"You still pay your respects where you can. Two minutes of silence, wear a poppy, that's all we ask."

Poppies are being sold as usual this year, although the legion expects donations overall to be down in 2020. (CBC)

Poppy push

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial stress and strain on legion branches across the province. Some are on the verge of closing entirely, while one of the largest branches has seen losses of about $50,000 a month since April. 

Lawrence expects donations to legion branches will be down compared with last year, citing the pandemic as one of the leading factors. But Lawrence said more corporate donations are starting to come through from businesses that put poppies in their stores.

"We're hoping that at the end of the day it'll be balanced out, but we're expecting a much smaller donation this year," he said. 

Poppies can be bought at the same locations as previous years — trays and donation tins set up inside stores and shopping outlets, or at legion branches — but with fewer volunteers, veterans and members on site to keep in line with social distancing regulations. 

Lawrence told CBC News virtual poppies are also an option. It's an idea that came into practice three years ago.

"It's quite popular all across the country," he said.

"I think the first year we sold 250,000 and last year it was up again. We're expecting it to be even bigger again this year, with COVID of course."

The poppy fund goes directly toward supporting veterans and their families.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes