COVID-19 restrictions limit Remembrance Day experience, cut into poppy sales

Remembrance Day services will be online and on cable TV as organizers try to limiit crowd sizes due to COVID-19. In-person poppy sales not happening either.

Remembrance Day service going virtual

A soldier stands in remembrance at the cenotaph in Windsor in 2014. (Ioana Draghici/CBC News)

Stuart Johns served in a tank crew in Europe during the Second World War. The 95-year-old won't be able to attend this year's Remembrance Day services downtown because of COVID-19.

Instead, he'll watch it on television, as citizens and veterans are being asked to stay away from the actual ceremony. Only certain dignitaries and individuals representing organizations laying wreaths will be allowed to attend the services at the cenotaph to limit the spread of the virus. 

And COVID-19 also means a November without volunteers out selling poppies at malls and city streets. 

 "It was disappointing when I read in the paper that they're only going to have what you guys call a virtual thing," said Johns, who last year attended the ceremonies with several family members. The service will be streamed online and on local cable TV.

Stuart Johns is surrounded by family members who attend the Remembrance Day celebrations with him every year. (Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root)

One of his three daughters, Nancy Johns-Root, says at least 15 family members have gone with him and he enjoys the attention.

"And he likes that he calls us his grenadiers and he likes to be down there and he likes those kids that are always down there and they always pay attention to him and all the veterans," said Johns-Root.

"I certainly appreciate all those important people getting up, telling us what great heroes we were and all that kind of stuff," said Johns.

And this isn't the first thing COVID-19 has put a damper on for Johns. He was supposed to be part of the Canadian delegation to the Netherlands in May to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland. It was cancelled.

Stuart Johns (left) with family friend Johathan Davidson at last year's Remembrance Day services. (Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root)

He also would have liked to meet the family of a war buddy he got in touch with last year, but travel restrictions scrapped that plan too.

75th anniversary

Not being at the cenotaph this year is particularly disappointing because it marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

"This is the last big one. The 75th," said Johns-Root.

Organizer Paul Lauzon, the president of the Windsor Veterans Memorial Services Committee, said people watching on television will see the usual ceremonies with the trumpet playing last post and the cannon signaling the end of the moment of silence.

Even military units such the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment won't be present. However, Lauzon said veterans who come won't be turned away.

Stuart Johns will watch the Remembrance Day services from home There will be a limited number of people at the service due to COVID-19. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"It's pretty hard to keep those guys away from a day like November 11th," said Lauzon. "..and to say that the 75th anniversary, they're going to want to be there and we're certainly not going to turn away any veteran," said Lauzon, adding that attendees will be physically distanced.

Poppy sales expected to be down

Meanwhile, the Zone A1 poppy sales chairman with the Royal Canadian Legion is expecting a huge drop in revenues this year because they will not have volunteers out selling poppies in-person. 

"The face-to-face used to bring in about 50 per cent of our revenue. Last year it was over $20,000," said Archie Neilson.

Neilson hopes extra boxes placed at Devonshire Mall and at Costco will help make up for at least half of the loss. 

He is also hopeful his Branch 594 on Howard Avenue will bring in some extra cash with the sale of poppy masks the Legion is selling across Canada for $10 each. Those will arrive next Monday. 

Poppies go on sale on Friday.


Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.


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