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London, Ont. marks Remembrance Day with pandemic-modified ceremony

While some restrictions were still in place, the 2021 Remembrance Day ceremony in London, Ont., was larger than it was in 2020. Andrew Graham/Global News

Hundreds gathered on a mild, overcast Thursday to honour veterans from London, Ont., and across Canada on Remembrance Day 2021.

While the ceremony was larger than last year’s, which was drastically cut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony was still invite-only so as to avoid large crowds. Veterans from the Parkwood Institute long-term care home were also in attendance, in heated buses parked beside where the ceremony was held.

Read more: Remembrance Day in London, Ont., perseveres through COVID-19 pandemic

City officials previously noted that this year’s ceremony would follow its standard format, with a few modifications, such as spectators being discouraged and no marching parade.

The public is invited to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Victoria Park in downtown London after 1 p.m. Thursday.

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For the 15th consecutive year, Carolyn Wilson was the Silver Cross mother. Her son, Trooper Mark Wilson, was killed in 2006 after his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while he was serving in Afghanistan.

Wilson was one of eight individuals to lay official wreaths at the cenotaph during the ceremony, doing so on behalf of the different levels of government and the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP and Royal Canadian Legion as well as the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

Read more: Premier Doug Ford highlights soldiers who served in Afghanistan during Remembrance Day ceremony

Mayor Ed Holder laid a wreath on behalf of the City of London. He addressed the importance of the day in his opening remarks during Thursday afternoon’s COVID-19 update hosted by the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

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“Let me say on behalf of all Londoners, it’s a duty for which I hold the greatest respect,” he said.

“I would also hope that each of us can draw some measure of inspiration from our nation’s veterans, especially at a time when we are all being asked to make sacrifices of service to a greater good.

“It’s worth remembering, especially on an occasion such as this, that the sacrifices that we make and continue to do so pale dramatically in comparison to what our veterans have sacrificed for us.”

Read more: Why all Canadians should know the story of a Great War hero known as ‘Peggy’

Retired Lt. Col. Rick Phillips served as the parade commander. Phillips served more than 40 years and comes from “a family of service that’s been involved in all of the major conflicts that Canada has gone through since the Boer War,” which began in 1899. His daughter is also serving in the military and just recently returned from a roughly year-long overseas mission.

Parade commander, retired Lt. Col. Rick Phillips in London, Ont., on Nov. 11, 2021. Andrew Graham/Global News

“All of this is very important to me, and it’s therefore an honour. And of course, having been involved in the military in London for many years and in the Legion in London for many years, I know many of those that are either organizing or in the parade in various capacities,” he told Global News.

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“It’s not an onerous responsibility at all. It’s an honour and pleasure.”

Phillips said there was some concern that because parades were cancelled and ceremonies significantly scaled back last year due to the pandemic, that it would make it easier for people to forget and when gatherings resumed there would be a diminished crowd.

Now that restrictions are starting to loosen, he said “it’s nice to see that that they have, in fact, not (forgotten).”

Read more: Veteran homelessness functionally ended in London, Ont., city officials say

He added that organizers and participants were “lucky the weather was good for us, which we can’t always count on in November.”

“My thanks to those that were here, it was also especially great to see the Parkwood buses and I hope that the men and women of Parkwood enjoyed the service as well.”

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Vigil guard Sergeant Jeff Wybo at the Remembrance Day ceremony in London, Ont., on Nov. 11, 2021. Andrew Graham/Global News

Vigil guard Sgt. Jeff Wybo said it was meaningful to be able to gather in person.

“It was great to see everybody out, it’s been a little quiet the last two years, so it’s good to see people out reflecting on the day,” he told Global News.

“A big part of being in the military is about the camaraderie, so it’s an important day that we all get together. After this, we still get together and we’re going to hang out and tell stories. And we haven’t been able to do that for the last two years as much.”

Wybo added “it means a lot,” especially for anyone who’s ever been deployed, to see people wearing poppies and coming out to show support.

With files from Global News’ Andrew Graham

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