Remembrance Day ceremonies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and at city halls, places of worship and military bases across Canada Sunday commemorated the end of the First World War a century ago.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan headed the ceremony, which began in sub-zero temperatures, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Paris for events with other world leaders.
Among those Payette greeted as the ceremony got underway was Winnipeg resident Anita Cenerini, who was named as the 2018 National Silver Cross mother, representing all military mothers who have lost a child to war. Cenerini fought for her son, Pte. Thomas Welch, to receive full military honours after his suicide.
This is the first time the legion has chosen a mother who lost a child to suicide for the year-long designation. After serving in Afghanistan in 2003, the 22-year-old ended his life on May 8, 2004, at the army base in Petawawa, Ont.
At 11 a.m. Sunday, a sombre silence was broken by the beginning of a 21-gun salute and the deep tolling of a bell marking the solemn occasion. Five CF-18 Hornet aircraft from Cold Lake, Alta., also soared over the crowd at the National War Memorial in a « missing man » formation. The crowd paused at 11 a.m. to reflect on the sacrifices of Canadians who gave their lives in conflict around the world.
During the First World War, more than 66,000 Canadians died on the battlefields of Europe and more than 45,000 lost their lives during the Second World War. The Remembrance Day ceremonies acknowledged the contributions of all Canadians who have served and are still serving today.
Thousands gather for Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa:
Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, accompanied Sajjan at the ceremony, and was joined by Senator Peter Harder, Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon representing Veterans Affairs Canada and Thomas Irvine, national president of Royal Canadian Legion.
‘Very special Remembrance Day’
As the Ottawa Children’s Choice sang In Flanders Field, wreaths were laid at the foot of the war memorial to remember the fallen. Payette put down the first wreath, followed by Cenerini on behalf of « The Mothers of Canada, » then Sajjan on behalf of the government, as well as others representing various federal departments, and even one representing the young people of Canada and another on behalf of Indigenous people.
In an interview before the ceremony began, Sajjan told CBC’s Hannah Thibedeau that this is a « very special Remembrance Day » because of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, ending the so-called Great War.
« Even today our men and women in Armed Forces are deployed all over the world. And let’s not forget the families as well who serve alongside them. »
Sajjan also stressed the important role of peacekeepers.
« World War I was a consequence where peace was not found … when we look at the work they do, we’re proud of the resilience in not only reducing conflict, but also preventing it. »
Honouring the fallen
In a statement Sunday from the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau emphasized the role Canadians played in the First World War.
« One hundred years ago today, the Armistice between Germany and the Allies ended the First World War. As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice, we also mark Canada’s Hundred Days, » his statement says, in part.
« During the ‘100 Days Offensive,’ Canadians spearheaded attacks that overcame the last lines of German defences and paved the way to final victory. These soldiers were the face and strength of a young country that sacrificed beyond measure and never faltered in its duty. »
Trudeau also encouraged people in Canada to take time out for two minutes of silence, to « remember every Canadian who has sacrificed their future for generations beyond their own. We stand today, free and at peace, because of them.
« Lest we forget. »
In Toronto, among the events across the city, there was a military parade through the downtown streets, with the primary ceremony happening at Old City Hall, with Mayor John Tory in attendance.
Premier Doug Ford hosted Ontario’s official Queen’s Park Remembrance Day ceremony in Toronto, where he encouraged Canadians to remember soldiers past and present as they reflect on the centennial anniversary.
After a ceremony that saw as many as 500 troops march towards the Ontario Legislature while John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields was read aloud, Ford told the crowd that « Canadian heroes span every conflict and every generation. »
On the East Coast, ceremonies included ones in Nova Scotia, where crowds of people filled the square at Halifax’s Grand Parade. As the clock struck 11 a.m., the gun on nearby Citadel Hill fired the first of 22 shots.
And in Prince Edward Island, hundreds gathered in Charlottetown to honour the fallen. The sombre crowd stood in near silence as it reflected on the battles that ended a century ago, and those that have come since.
Montreal’s main ceremony began at the Quebec Provincial Command, at Place du Canada. Quebec City’s event took place on the Plains of Abraham with Premier François Legault in attendance.
Meanwhile, a church in Fernie, B.C., commemorated the 100th anniversary of the armistice by ringing its bell 100 times. Thousands of people also turned out for commemorations at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
With files from The Canadian Press