The Royal Canadian Legion is doing what was once the unthinkable: Discouraging people from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in person this year. The 2019 National Silver Cross Mother, Reine Samson Dawe, middle left, and Governor General Julie Payette, middle left, watched the parade during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Remembrance Day planners scrambling as COVID-19 upends traditional ceremonies

Legion branches are scrambling to plan stripped-down versions of the annual sombre ceremonies

The Royal Canadian Legion is taking the unprecedented step of discouraging Canadians from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies this year as COVID-19 upends the traditional ways of honouring those who sacrificed their lives for Canada.

Legion branches across the country are scrambling to plan stripped-down versions of the annual sombre ceremonies on Nov. 11 as many local governments restrict large-scale gatherings due to the rising number of new COVID-19 cases.

That includes in Ottawa, where as many as 30,000 Canadians gather alongside hundreds of veterans and serving military personnel every year to mark Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial.

This year’s national ceremony will include many traditional elements such as the playing of Last Post and the lament, the singing of In Flanders Fields along with the boom of cannons, prayers and a military flyby, said legion director of communications Nujma Bond.

But some changes due to COVID-19 will be unmistakable, with the decision to cancel the parade of elderly veterans, serving military members and school-aged cadets that has long been a fixture of the event.

The Department of National Defence has decided not to have cadets attend in-person Remembrance Day events across Canada, said spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier. The involvement of Canadian Armed Forces personnel is also being limited, he added, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.

The decision to cancel the annual veterans’ parade in Ottawa is particularly striking given the shrinking number of Canadians still alive who served in the Second World War and Korea. Some now in their 80s and 90s have braved the cold for decades to attend the ceremony, but age puts them at high risk from COVID-19.

Instead, only a handful of people will be on hand at the cenotaph, as the Legion asks Canadians abide by local public-health guidelines and watch the ceremony on TV or online rather than in person.

“For the first time ever, we will be discouraging spectators from coming down to the National War Memorial,” said Bond. “It’s most definitely a shame this year that we’re all having to work within the constraints that this pandemic has brought.”

About 30,000 people attend the national ceremony every year, Bond added.

The same reluctant request is being made by legion branches in other parts of the country even as organizers iron out details amid shifting public-health guidelines.

One of those is Legion Branch 5 in Thunder Bay, Ont., whose annual outdoor parade and ceremony typically involves up to 150 veterans, military personnel, cadets and volunteers, and is observed by around 500 people.

“Obviously with the restrictions that are placed on us by the province and the local health unit, we had been down to 100 because we were outside,” said branch president Lester Newman. “We’re still not sure if that’s been completely whittled down again, which would all but stop it.”

(The Ottawa ceremony has the city’s permission for up to 100 people due to the nature of the commemoration, Bond said, “though clearly anything can happen between now and then.”)

READ MORE: Legion to hold private Remembrance Day ceremony this year in Veterans’ Square

Newman, who served 42 years as a naval reservist before retiring as a lieutenant-commander, said he has been attending Remembrance Day ceremonies for decades and that it is “part of my makeup.”

The event organized by Legion Branch 5 is particularly important for remembering the three soldiers from Thunder Bay who died in Afghanistan, Newman said. Cpl. Anthony Boneca, Pte. Robert Costall and Pte. Josh Klukie died in separate incidents in 2006.

Despite the restrictions in Ottawa and elsewhere across Canada, Bond said the ceremonies will remain unchanged in their reverence paid to Canada’s veterans, and some of the familiar elements.

“And we are very hopeful and invite people to participate in other ways,” she added. “It’s such a key moment for the Legion every year, it’s a key moment for veterans, and for many Canadians.”

Ways to participate include not only watching on TV or online, but wearing poppies once they become available later this month and recognizing two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 no matter where people are.

Still, “it is sad that we have to limit the numbers,” said Bob Underhill, vice-president of the legion’s operations in B.C. and Yukon and head of the organizing committee for the ceremony in Vancouver’s Victory Square.

The Victory Square ceremony is believed to be the second largest in Canada after Ottawa’s, with about 20,000 people attending each year. But this year, Underhill said the number is being kept under the local maximum of 50.

“We’re trying to arrange for our bands and soloists to do their part virtually, not to attract people down to Victory Square,” Underhill said.

“We’re going to have our official wreath-laying at the site, but we’re going to try and minimize what we’re actually doing at the site so as to not attract attention and get people gathering because we’re under the 50-person maximum. It’s going to be very different.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRemembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Donate
Castor organization helping charities shuts down after 29 years due to COVID-19

The Castor and District Community Chest came together for the first time on Nov. 21st, 1991

town hall
Town of Castor moves forward with utility bylaw amendments, consultation to follow

It is expected that the final readings of the amendment will be passed in December

County
County’s Stan Schulmeister acclaimed as reeve for fourth one-year term

“You do the best you can for as many as you can.”

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read