Canadian leaders and packed crowds gathered at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Monday morning to remember those who have died for this country.
The commemorations began with the traditional Remembrance Day veterans’ march through the streets on a chilly sub-zero morning in the capital. A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion said the crowd size estimates they have received suggest roughly 32,000 people braved the cold and wind to show their respects.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance attended the ceremony at the National War Memorial, along with Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, Speaker of the House of Commons Geoff Regan, and Speaker of the Senate George Furey.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attended a commemoration in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended one in Burnaby and interim Green Party Leader Jo-Ann Roberts went to one in Halifax.
“It’s a bittersweet day as we think of those we lost, those who served,” said Vance in an interview with Global News.
Vance said he thinks there’s been an increase in the number of Canadians taking part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies and much of the renewed national focus he says he sees on remembrance likely comes as a result of the war in Afghanistan, in which a total of 158 Canadians were killed.
“I think there’s been quite a spike in terms of people coming out,” Vance said.
“The Afghan War was one that made it very personal to a lot of Canadians.”
His remarks come on the heels of a survey done by Ipsos on behalf of Historica Canada last week which found the number of Canadians who say they plan to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony in person is at an all-time high of 41 per cent.
That’s up 14 per cent since 2016 — as well, 88 per cent of respondents said they feel it’s important to attend while veterans of the Second World War still live.
Among those at the National War Memorial for the ceremony on Monday was the National Silver Cross Mother, Reine Samson Dawe, who laid a wreath on behalf of mothers who have lost a child during service as a member of the Canadian Forces.
Samson Dawe’s son, 27-year-old Capt. Matthew Dawe, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2007.
“I have to represent all those mothers, particularly the ones of all the soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan,” Samson Dawe said.
“I’m certainly not alone, and my duty is to represent them. And I want to do so with dignity and thinking about them all, you know, sharing their grief.”
Payette and Trudeau both issued statements ahead of the start of the commemorations.
“They fought for the ideals of peace and to defend our liberties. Many were wounded in their body and in their soul. Too many paid the ultimate price. We owe them an immense debt of gratitude. We must never forget their sacrifice and the terrible costs of war,” she said in a video statement.
“Let us never take freedom for granted and stand up for equality and tolerance. Whether at Vimy, on the beaches of Normandy, on the banks of the Scheldt or in the streets of Ortona, and later in Asia, in Afghanistan, peacekeeping in various corners of the world, Canadians have always served—and continue to serve—bravely, selflessly and with great distinction.”
She continued: “We have a duty to remember. Today and always.”
Trudeau’s reflected on the history of Remembrance Day as a way to honour those who served and urged Canadians to observe a moment of silence.
“Today, we come together to honour the brave Canadians in uniform who have served our country throughout our history. They’ve built peace. They’ve defended democracy. And they’ve enabled countless people to live in freedom – at home and around the world,” his statement reads.
“Today, we pay tribute to our veterans, to those who have been injured in the line of duty, and to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They stood for liberty, and sacrificed their future for the future of others. Their selflessness and courage continue to inspire Canadians who serve today. At 11:00 a.m., I encourage everyone to observe the two minutes of silence in recognition of the brave Canadians who fought for us.”
“Today, we thank our service members, past and present, for all they have done to keep us and people around the world safe. They represent the very best of what it means to be Canadian,” he continued.
“Lest we forget.”