TORONTO — A crowd returned to the grounds of Ontario's legislature on Thursday for the second Remembrance Day of the pandemic, with speakers highlighting the service of Canadian soldiers in conflicts abroad and at home during the fight against COVID-19.
Premier Doug Ford noted it had been 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the start of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. He also paid tribute to those who served in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Gulf wars, and "countless" peacekeeping missions around the world.
"Remembrance Day is a time all Ontarians pay tribute and honor the memory of those who have sacrificed for us, and show our gratitude to those heroes who still walk among us," Ford said.
Heritage Minister Lisa MacLeod commented on the size of the crowd, which was larger than last year when more restrictions were in place, and thanked people for coming to pay respects while the pandemic continues.
She also highlighted the work of Armed Forces members who provided relief and eyewitness accounts of conditions in hard-hit Ontario long-term care homes that were struggling with deadly COVID-19 outbreaks early in the pandemic.
Brigadier-General Peter Scott of the 4th Canadian Division also gave a speech highlighting those efforts in long-term care and elsewhere on the frontlines of the pandemic fight. He noted that Armed Forces members helped vaccinate remote First Nations communities and provided relief in Ontario hospitals.
"On this Remembrance Day, we also remember those who served at home on many missions that provided aid and security to Canadians across the country," he said.
A barrier separated the speakers from the group of a few hundred people who wore poppies and masks under the autumn leaves.
Air Force Lt. Danny Wijoyo said the in-person gathering brought "another layer of reverence" to his experience of paying respect in uniform.
"I'm really glad there's actually this many people out," he said before the ceremony started. "It's just really encouraging that there's all this support."
Daimian Boyne, who served with the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia in 1994, said he considers Remembrance Day an important time to remember Canada's history.
"It's a sad day for all of us. We remember our friends, we remember our family, but I think all told it's a good reminder for people of what our history and our heritage was and is," he said.
He said his own experience in Bosnia is a reminder of "the inhumanity that can happen in the world."
"If people don't go to places like this and stand up for people's rights, then we're going to have a world that's falling apart," he said.
Elsewhere in the city, Mayor John Tory highlighted the experience of Toronto veterans and Black and Indigenous veterans who challenged racism and discrimination within the Armed Forces. He said those efforts should be remembered in an increasingly polarized world.
"Remembrance Day should inspire us to strengthen our commitment to respect, to affirm our rejection of hatred and division," he said.
Marvin Gord, a Second World War veteran, said he came out to remember those who served and are no longer here.
"As long as I can keep coming, I enjoy it," the 100-year-old said.
Capt. Courtland Elliott, who has served for 21 years, said he was pleased to attend the ceremony with a bigger crowd this year.
"To have us coming back to what could be called normal is quite reassuring,” he said.
Elliott said he has known soldiers who have died serving Canada and that Remembrance Day always offers him a chance to reflect on their contributions.
"Each and every time it reinforces to me that being in service is meritorious," he said. "And providing that remembrance of those who have served is equally meritorious."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press