OTTAWA – Thousands of people braved wind and cold in Ottawa on Friday to pay tribute to and remember those who sacrificed much more than personal comfort for the country and its way of life.
The crowd started gathering early, lining security fences around the National War Memorial. They included current and former military members, out-of-town visitors and families with young children, a new generation of Canadians learning the importance of remembrance.
Inside the security perimeter, veterans from the Second World War and Korea huddled for warmth under red blankets. Their ranks were thinner this year, as they are every year, tangible evidence of the growing distance between those conflicts and today.
The annual parade past the memorial instead featured many veterans of Canadian peacekeeping operations, their blue berets bright under the grey skies that loomed over the ceremony, blocking out the sun and any hope for warmth.
There was a moment of surprise and shock, just as Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon arrived, when a gust of wind sent a piece of scaffolding from a nearby construction site crashing down on a woman in the crowd. She was taken away by medics, apparently nursing an injured shoulder.
Otherwise the crowd remained silent as the Peace Tower tolled 11 a.m. and the crisp bugle notes of the Last Post cut through the wind-whipped air. The onlookers listened quietly as cannon boomed a salute and prayers were offered for generations of military dead.
Johnston and his wife, both wearing military uniforms – he in the blue of the air force as commander-in-chief and she as an honorary navy captain – were joined in front of the memorial by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and other dignitaries.
After the prayers, they and others placed wreaths. The Silver Cross Mother, Colleen Fitzpatrick of Prince George, B.C., laid a wreath on behalf of all bereaved mothers. Her son, Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick, was mortally wounded in Afghanistan in March 2010.
After the dignitaries had left, the crowd surged forward to place poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Many spoke about the importance of remembrance, and how the passage of time doesn’t seem to have reduced the sense of respect and acknowledgment Canadians feel for those who have served.
The national service was one of dozens of ceremonies held across the country, from major cities to small towns.