The Royal Canadian Legion is welcoming back one of the most iconic aspects of Canada’s national Remembrance Day ceremony following a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: the veterans’ parade.
Involving veterans of all ages and backgrounds, the parade is one of the most tangible ways for those who have served in uniform to honour fallen comrades — and for Canadians to express appreciation for their service.
Those participating gather about an hour before the ceremony begins, then march through the streets of Ottawa to the National War Memorial for its start. They then march off with the rest of the official delegation after the ceremony.
“This allows people to see in person or by television, our veterans, see their faces, thank them, and remember them for their service and their sacrifices,” Legion spokeswoman Nujma Bond said. “It is really an important element of the national Remembrance Day ceremony.”
The parade was officially cancelled the past two years due to health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those affecting older veterans. The veterans’ absence was noticeable during the official ceremony.
With most provincial and federal pandemic-related restrictions now lifted, however, the Legion is bringing the parade back.
“We will be able to have a full, grand veterans’ parade,” Bond said. “And that means we will have veterans gathering and marching in at the beginning of the Remembrance Day ceremony. And they will also be part of a march off at the end of the ceremony.”
Retired chief petty officer first class Jake McDavid will be leading the parade this year, and says it is an important and poignant event for veterans such as himself to reflect on his military service while honouring those who fell while in uniform.
“I think about all of the persons that I’ve served with,” he said. “I think about the experiences that I had while serving in the Canadian Forces. I think about the hardship that my family endured while I was away. I think about the ones that didn’t come back.”
Many of those who march in the parade each year come from different parts of the country, said McDavid.
He said it hurts to learn when one of the usual participants has died, especially older veterans who served in the Second World War and Korea.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s hard because you do form some relationships with the persons that are on parade.”
The return of the veterans’ parade won’t be the only noticeable difference between this year’s national Remembrance Day ceremony and recent iterations. The Legion also plans to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth and the 80th anniversary of the raid on Dieppe.
A special wreath dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne, will be laid at the foot of the National War Memorial before the ceremony begins on Remembrance Day.
“It is a way to remember her and her service because as we know, she also was a veteran,” Bond said. “She served in the Second World War as an Army mechanic and driver. And we also wish to pay her special respects on that day.”
The ceremony will also feature a special Red Ensign flag that was reportedly carried by one of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers who participated in the ill-fated raid on the French port of Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942 and later donated to the Legion.
This year’s ceremony also follows several demonstrations and rallies at the National War Memorial since the “Freedom Convoy” in February, when thousands of protesters opposed to vaccines, pandemic restrictions and the Liberal government congregated in Ottawa.
Bond said there will be security at the site on Remembrance Day for the ceremony, but referred questions about additional measures to police.
“We are preparing for the ceremony, as we always do, for a special and respectful ceremony,” she said. “Anything pertaining to dissent or any other activity will be handled by security forces on site.”
The Ottawa Police Service, which is responsible for co-ordinating security on Remembrance Day, said it would not comment on operational details.