Observe Remembrance Day from home this year, legion pleads

·3 min read

COVID-19 protocols will have a profound effect on this year's Remembrance Day service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

The Royal Canadian Legion is asking people to pay their respects from home rather than in person this Nov. 11.

"Don't come down to the monument," said Danny Martin, the legion's director of ceremonies. "Stay home, watch it on television."

We feel it's important to have a live ceremony to remember our veterans, their sacrifices, but it's also important to protect people. - Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion

If you do try to show up in person, you won't get very close: barriers will be erected to keep people away from the memorial, and police will be on hand to keep everyone moving along, Martin said.

Provincial restrictions on public gatherings have forced organizers to plan for a service with fewer than 100 guests inside the perimeter, around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Ceremony scaled back

Martin said the planning for this year's ceremony began months ago.

"We didn't see this pandemic loosing up, and I guess we were right in the long run," he said. "We feel it's important to have a live ceremony to remember our veterans, their sacrifices, but it's also important to protect people."

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

The list of invitees has been kept as short as possible. This year's vice-regal party includes the prime minister, Governor General, veterans affairs minister and the Silver Cross Mother, all seated two metres apart from one another.

Twenty-four veterans' groups will each lay a wreath, adding to the more than 200 that will have been laid in advance.

There will be a 21-gun salute following two minutes of silence, but this year's ceremony will have no parades and very few dignitaries. In recent years, the ceremony has drawn crowds of up to 40,000, rain or shine.

75th anniversary

Though they evaded bullets on Juno beach and tanks in the Rhineland, COVID-19 will stop the veterans who helped end the Second World War 75 year ago from attending this year's Nov. 11 ceremony.

The youngest would be 93 years old, and an easy target for the coronavirus.

"[That's] the one part that really hits your heart," said Martin, who served 23 years in the Canadian Forces and grew up admiring the contributions of earlier vets.

"It's just too much of a risk," he said.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

For the past 48 years, the Ottawa Children's Choir has led the singing of O Canada and God Save the Queen on Nov. 11, but not this year. Instead, choir director Jamie Loback and his colleagues must select a single soloist.

"We as a choir are fortunate to have this honour every year, and for this individual, it will be a great honour," said Loback. "I think we will find beauty and meaning in whatever we are able to do as an organization."

Flag campaign

Over at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre, the Remembrance Day ceremony must also be scaled back, according to development manager Courtney Rock.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Instead of hosting visitors, the Perley Rideau Foundation is allowing family and friends of residents to sponsor a Canadian flag, with the hope that by Nov. 11, residents will look out onto the grounds and see 2,000 fluttering in the breeze. All the money raised will be reinvested in the care of the residents.

"Remembrance Day is a time to pay tribute and honour those who fought and served — that's our goal," Rock said.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC