As Canada’s fallen and surviving veterans were honoured on the grounds of the B.C. legislature in Victoria for Remembrance Day, a different ceremony paid tribute to four-legged victims of war.
Dozens gathered at the back of the legislature to not only highlight the millions of animals that have died in warfare, but also to condemn the use of animals in combat.
Jordan Reichert with the Animal Alliance of Canada, who has planned the annual event for five years now, says while animals’ contributions and sacrifice should be honoured, glorifying their role can become problematic.
“It’s important that when we create that narrative about animals’ role in war, we just remember that … they were forced to be there, and they died without being able to really comprehend what was going on around them,” he said.
Attendees wore purple poppies in addition to the traditional red ones. The purple symbol was started by Animal Aid, based in the U.K. to recognize animal victims of war.
Naturally, many attendees brought their pet dogs for companionship.
Addressing the crowd, Reichert noted the event started in 2015 with “just a few people,” saying he was “touched” the event had grown.
“That’s why we gather here today,” he said. “The animals of war have been a footnote in history, and we need to make sure they are not omitted and not forgotten on this day or any other day.”
Two minutes of silence were held for the mules and horses used to transport troops and equipment, dogs trained as messengers and bomb detectors, and even pigeons used to deliver messages.
During the First World War alone, 16 million animals lost their lives — half of them horses.
An Animals in War Memorial was unveiled in Ottawa in 2012 to mark the achievements of those animals, consisting of a statue of a medical service dog sitting over three bronze plaques and footprints of dogs and horses.
Reichert says he wants a similar memorial to be created in Victoria, saying the Ottawa location doesn’t fully capture the animals’ full sacrifice and importance to the war effort.
He wants it to be similar to a memorial in London, England, that features two mules carrying heavy loads on their backs with their heads down, walking towards a small gap in a curved wall.
That memorial, Reichert says, properly conveys the burden placed on animals instead of glorifying them.
“It’s really important that we stress that animals used in war, they’re not heroes, they’re not sacrifices, because they had no choice,” he said.
—With files from Kylie Stanton