Politics

Canadians mark Remembrance Day in person a year after pandemic limited ceremonies

Canadians marked a return to in-person Remembrance Day ceremonies, including at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced limited gatherings.

Some ceremonies still limited due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

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16 days ago
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Brad LeBlanc, president of Veterans UN-NATO Canada in Nova Scotia, shares his thoughts on the commemoration of Remembrance Day a year after the pandemic limited ceremonies. 7:34

Canadians marked a return to in-person Remembrance Day ceremonies, including at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced limited gatherings.

The annual ceremony in the country's capital included the playing of the Last Post, the ceremonial laying of wreaths at the foot of the memorial and a moment of silence followed by a 21-gun salute.

Typically, tens of thousands of people attend the ceremony in Ottawa, but last year's ceremony was limited to a much smaller crowd of 100 or so dignitaries, active service members, veterans and some members of the public.

People stand on the sidewalk before the National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the the National War Memorial in Ottawa, on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

While Thursday's ceremony was a far cry from the usual crowd, hundreds of people were able to attend this year — including some who had made the journey from Toronto.

This year also marks 100 years since Canada adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

'Shoulder to shoulder'

Thursday was the first Remembrance Day since allied troops — including Canadian soldiers — were pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took control.

For Rear Admiral Rebecca Patterson, this added extra poignancy to this year's ceremonies, along with a sense of relief.

Patterson went to Afghanistan in 2011 as part of a mission to help the Afghan National Army (ANA) reestablish their medical training and education system.

It was there that she met Sami Rauofi, a colonel with the ANA, who she kept in touch with after returning to Canada the following year.

Raoufi arrived in Canada only two days prior to Remembrance Day after fleeing Afghanistan, and he attended the ceremony in Ottawa alongside Patterson.

"It's very important to me, I'm proud I'm here," Raoufi said in front of the national memorial.

Patterson said she was happy to stand beside Raoufi on this Remembrance Day, noting their motto in Afghanistan was "shoulder to shoulder."

"It's really important to know that we made a difference in lives in Afghanistan and that the people that we worked with will never be forgotten," she said. 

Frosty poppies sit atop a tombstone on Remembrance Day at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Royal Canadian Legion spokeswoman Nujma Bond was expecting a return to some semblance of normalcy with people being welcomed to attend ceremonies this year. 

Some restrictions and changes nonetheless remained in place as COVID-19 continues to pose a threat, Bond said, with masks and physical distancing requirements for anyone attending ceremonies.

The legion also again cancelled the traditional veterans' parade in Ottawa, which has in the past seen elderly veterans from the Second World War and Korea march alongside counterparts from more recent conflicts and operations.

The ongoing pandemic also means that some older veterans were unable to attend the ceremony in Ottawa, including 97-year-old Jack Commerford.

A Second World War veteran, Commerford was one of the thousands of Canadians who landed on Juno Beach during the battle of Normandy.

Watching from his home in Ottawa, Commerford said he felt "badly" for not being able to attend in person this year, but would like to attend in 2022.

"I do hope that next year the restrictions will be lifted," he told CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

A security concern at the ceremony in Ottawa slightly delayed the arrival of the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon.

A mysterious package was found in the vicinity of the National War Memorial, but RCMP noted that it was quickly cleared. 

Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon salutes alongside her husband Whit Fraser after placing a wreath during Remembrance Day services at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

May Simon, who wore the uniform of the Royal Canadian Air Force and was attending her first Remembrance Day as the country's commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, acknowledged the long history and sacrifice of Indigenous Peoples in uniform.

She noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong during the Korean War and 15 years since Capt. Nichola Goddard became the first Canadian woman to die in combat. 

"It is important to learn about the stories of soldiers, past and present," May Simon said in a statement. "Though some stories may be hard to hear, it is our responsibility to bear witness. Our hope is that by recalling past sacrifices, we can look to a peaceful future. It is up to all of us. It is in our hands. It is our duty to keep the memory alive."

Some legion branches across the country did not hold in-person events because of the pandemic and instead asked people to watch local ceremonies on TV or online.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, large gatherings remained limited by the pandemic. But some in St. John's made their way to the war memorial downtown and lined the streets to remember the fallen.

The usual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Charlottetown cenotaph was also limited to military representatives and local politicians as the ceremony was again not open to the public this year.

More than 1,000 people stood under sunny skies at Halifax's Grand Parade to mark their remembrance as the ceremony reopened to the public this year.

Trudeau released a video statement prior to the ceremony in Ottawa, where he spoke of those who were injured or died in the line of duty.

"We owe so much to those who bravely serve, to our veterans, to the fallen and to the families who love and support them," he said.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole released a statement saying Remembrance Day is an opportunity to thank those who serve in the armed forces.

"Our veterans and those serving today represent the very best of what it means to be Canadian. Their selflessness and courage serve as an inspiration to all of us," his statement said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended a local ceremony in his B.C. riding of Burnaby.

"We remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty, and those who were forever changed by their experiences," he said in a statement.

With files from The Canadian Press

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