Remembrance Day 2023: Canadians Gather to Honor Veterans Amid Global Turmoil

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lays a wreath at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As Canada marked Remembrance Day this Saturday, thousands across the nation, from Atlantic Canada to Ottawa, gathered in solemn ceremonies to honor those who served in the Armed Forces, amidst a backdrop of ongoing global conflicts.

In Ottawa, a significant crowd convened at the National War Memorial. Dignitaries, including Governor General Mary Simon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, stood alongside veterans, soldiers, and musicians in a poignant tribute.

Oswald Reece, centre, wipes his eye as he sits with fellow veterans at a Remembrance Day service at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Retired Sgt. Aubrey St. Peter, 90, encapsulated the mood, stating, “It’s tremendous, the amount of people who’ve passed away, not only during the war but when they’re retired and hanging around, like me.”

The ceremony held a special resonance this year, marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Tim Cook, historian and director of research at the Canadian War Museum, reflected on the dwindling numbers of WWII and Korean War veterans. “We’re losing our eyewitnesses to history,” he said, emphasizing the importance of capturing and sharing their diverse stories.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre says Canada must be ready to respond to global crises that will impact the country directly.

Gen. Wayne Eyre, in a pre-ceremony interview with CBC News, stressed the importance of learning from military history and preparing for current global security threats. “The study of our military history could almost be considered a study in unpreparedness,” he remarked, highlighting concerns over Canada’s readiness amidst a “deteriorating security situation around the world.”

In Fredericton, 92-year-old Rev. Bob Jones, a former military chaplain, joined in remembering the fallen. His career, spanning 20 years, included a deployment to Israel. Jones expressed regret for not visiting the Gaza War Cemetery, saying, “If I had known what we know now, maybe I should have made a special effort to have gotten there.”

People look on during a Remembrance Day ceremony in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Remembrance Day’s significance was further heightened by ongoing conflicts, particularly in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip. Gilles Thibeault, a 35-year Canadian Armed Forces veteran, echoed a sentiment of concern at the Ottawa ceremony, saying, “This is bad, this is really, really bad. All the destruction and all of the lives that are being lost for I don’t know what reason.”

Prime Minister Trudeau, in his Remembrance Day statement, urged Canadians to wear a poppy and observe two minutes of silence. He recognized the sacrifices of the Armed Forces, including their roles in peacekeeping and training Ukrainian soldiers. Trudeau’s post-ceremony interactions with veterans and people along Wellington Street in Ottawa were a testament to the day’s emotional gravity.

Trudeau greets veterans during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

However, the official program notably omitted direct mention of ongoing wars, a contrast to last year’s ceremonies where the Ukraine conflict was a focal point. Gen. Eyre, in an earlier interview, had highlighted the global interconnectedness of security, “with war in Europe, war in the Middle East, high tensions in Asia-Pacific, climate change—all stressors on our security environment.”

At the Toronto ceremony, retired corporal Alan Roy, a third-generation Canadian military member, donned a kilt representing Canada’s tartan and reflected on his family’s legacy of service. Meanwhile, Melanie Stephens, in her 70s, rode her vintage bike to Old City Hall, paying tribute to her relatives who served in both World Wars.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during a Remembrance Day ceremony in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In Montreal, the 21-gun salute at Place du Canada drew hundreds, including Paul Hebert, a 33-year Armed Forces veteran. Hebert emphasized the perpetual need to remember those who sacrificed, “those who served our country since 1867 to today.”

The ceremonies also highlighted the often-overlooked roles of women during wartime. As Melanie Stephens poignantly noted, “The wives, the mothers, the daughters who kept the home fires burning, who sacrificed themselves and worked two jobs … They pulled their weight and more. We don’t talk about the women.”