Remembrance Day. In Canada, we still mark the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month. The more I know, the more it means to me. I can vividly conjure up strong and distinct memories from every phase of my life, based on connections. Connections to those who served, with my community and now, best of all, with my children.
In elementary, when I attended Lake Wilcox Public School, the Ontario government argued that kids got more about the meaning of the day while in the care of the system than home with their parents. I don’t disagree with the assessment. Some of my all-time fondest memories were of those November days when our Custodian, Mr McGee came to school in his navy jacket and poppy. He was the face of Veterans for most of us growing up.
One year in high school, I coordinated the Remembrance Day ceremony with my friend Christina. After requesting the moment of silence and playing John Lennon’s Imagine over the PA system, we left the office. Cadets from our school were changing the honour guard at the plaque naming the students from Dr G.W. Williams Secondary who had fought and died in both world wars. I had a completely new appreciation for the rituals of remembrance.
When I went to Bishop’s University in Quebec, I attended the memorial service in St Mark’s Chapel on campus. The stained glass and looking up again at that plaque of names, immersed in the Anglican services and prayers, conveyed the holy of holies.
I stopped for a while. I wore poppies and lost them. But then I had a child.
I first attended Remembrance Day services here in British Columbia with my son when he was a year old. We parked above the New Westminster City Hall and walked down to the new Cenotaph and squeezed in to find a place so he could take in the sights and sounds. I have attended every year since, and his younger sister will attend her tenth service, now in White Rock, on Friday.
In the intervening years, my parents have visited and joined us at the Cenotaph. We listen to the Padres, both Catholic and Protestant sharing their eternal messages of hopes for peace and comfort, note the declining number of veterans each year, and recognize the same gentleman in the PPCLI jacket, proudly worn. We hear the teenage girls stumble, reading the words of “In Flanders Fields” from a piece of paper shared between them and smile, hoping that the local representative from the Legion doesn’t stand too close to the microphone as he belts out O Canada and God Save the Queen. I’m glad that we still have a bagpiper to invoke the Lament. I soak in the Last Post and the Rouse. Thinking of the troops called to service by the Rouse, how appropriate and how sacred that we should bid them to rise again.
A nod to our provincial government who deems this day worthy of note and allows me to spend this hour of remembrance in the company of my children and my community. For that I am grateful.
If you want a beautiful insight into the origins of our Canadian Remembrance Day rituals, check out this book by Jonathan F. Vance called Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War.