For the first time in its 95-year history, the Royal Canadian Legion is asking Canadians not to attend Remembrance Day services across the country.
The Legion cited the pandemic in requesting that people pay their respects from home via television or social media streaming, including CHEK TV’s live coverage from the cenotaph at the legislature on Wednesday at 11 a.m. and CBC’s coverage from the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
“We asking people to please participate, but from home,” says Angus Stanfield, chairman of the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy and remembrance committee for Greater Victoria. It’s unprecedented and it’s difficult, but it’s for the safety of everyone.”
The Legion said the pandemic has meant the planning of significantly smaller ceremonies by invitation only. In Greater Victoria, all Legion branches will be closed on Wednesday.
“We really wrestled with that decision, but decided that with the risks, we just can’t do it,” Stanfield said. “There would be no way to make social distancing work, especially on such an emotional day. It’s a big day. It’s an important day. It’s a place to meet your buddies and share experiences, so this makes [the closures] very hard.”
The ceremonies at the legislature usually draw thousands of veterans, families, active military personnel and members of the public, with crowds stretching from the cenotaph to the steps of parliament. There is typically a program that includes dozens of wreaths being laid, hymns by a choir and prayers.
But this year’s event will take place in a small fenced area around the cenotaph with a brief ceremony led by Lt. Gov. Janet Austin. It will include B.C. Silver Cross Mother Sheila Fynes, some active military, legion personnel, a chaplain, four sentries, a piper and a bugler.
Stanfield said there will be no parades, singing or bands, and only a few wreaths will be laid. Those who do participate — likely under 50 in total — will be physically distanced. He encourages people to communicate with veterans via other means such as phone calls and social media.
The Royal Canadian Legion said Canadians can support veterans and their families by wearing a poppy.
“It is disappointing to discourage people from attending ceremonies this year,” Danny Martin, ceremony director, said in a statement on Monday. “However, beyond watching national and local broadcasts, thankfulness is also reflected by wearing a poppy, a profound gesture. And wherever they may be, Canadians can take two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th.”
Traditionally, about 35,000 attend the National Remembrance Day Ceremony at Ottawa’s National War Memorial.
Among highlights at this year’s national ceremony will be the presence of national Silver Cross Mother Deborah Sullivan from New Brunswick. She will lay a wreath on behalf of all mothers and families who have lost children in the line of service. Vintage aircraft will conclude the ceremony, marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.