Ceremonies go online, but Remembrance Day endures in Toronto amid pandemic

·2 min read

Of the fewer than 20 people who gathered at Fort York for Wednesday's Remembrance Day ceremony, Marvin Gord has perhaps the most to reflect on.

Gord, a 99-year-old Second World War veteran, was a radar specialist who helped planes navigate in Europe.

He now lives in North York, but still remembers the moment the war ended 75 years ago, while he was on a ship two days away from Canadian shores.

"Think about the sacrifices, and how to avoid them completely in the future," he told CBC Toronto when asked what Remembrance Day means to him.

Gord was present not only to attend Fort York's dramatically scaled-down ceremony — which normally draws upwards of 1,000 people — but to continue a fundraising effort for Baycrest Centre.

To raise money for the hospital's "safeguarding our seniors" campaign, he plans to walk 800 kilometres, a move that was inspired by British captain Tom Moore, who raised millions of dollars for the National Health Service.

"Baycrest is one of the major research operations in the world for seniors," said Gord, who used a walker to add to his step count, which is already past 1 million.

CBC
CBC

He wasn't the only person with a personal connection to war present at Fort York.

Reverend Jan Hieminga, who performed prayers and readings, was born in the Netherlands as the war began, living with his family in hiding until the German occupation ended.

"Remembrance Day is very special, because it's part of my family's story," he said.

Livestreamed events held across GTA

Fort York was one of many livestreamed and virtual events held around the GTA on Wednesday during a year in which the Royal Canadian Legion explicitly discouraged Canadians from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in person over fears of spreading COVID-19.

Other events were also held at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Queen's Park, Old City Hall, and at Saint John the Baptist Anglican Church in Mississauga.

CBC
CBC

At Old City Hall, the ceremony began with Aretha Phillip, the city's chief of protocol, reading out public health rules, including a prohibition on singing the national anthem.

Despite the changes, 99-year-old veteran Dorothy Pheonix told CBC Toronto the solemnity and importance of the day was unchanged.

"Lots of us would go off and fewer of us came back," she said "So today is not an easy day."

At Toronto's Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), the event was approached through an Afrocentric lens, focusing on commemorations, including a live streamed ceremony, "on the over 235 years of military service by Black Canadians."

"I've actually never seen a black veteran and let alone seen a female one," said Grade 12 student Rabeca Mangesha of the TCDSB ceremony. "It was really amazing."