Remembrance Day is the designated day across the country to commemorate those who fought for Canada’s freedom. But while it’s considered a federal statutory holiday in most provinces and territories, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec treat it differently. Those provinces mark Remembrance Day as a federal holiday, meaning that government workers get the day off, but all other employees still have to work and schools remain open.
This inconsistency of how we observe November 11 across the country has been part of the discourse for a long time, says Serge Durflinger, a history professor at the University of Ottawa.
“Whether or not it should be a federal statutory holiday is something that’s been debated for a century,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.
Why Remembrance Day has always divided opinions
Durflinger says there’s pros and cons to both sides. Some feel that if it’s a statutory holiday, a significant number of people aren’t going to take the day to do Remembrance Day activities and simply treat it as a holiday. Granting the day off can also take a financial toll. If all of the provinces and territories have the day off, and it’s mandated so that employers have to pay, that leads to billions of dollars and loss of productivity.
Another aspect to consider is not having children in schools on Remembrance Day.
School children are a very important part of inculcation, wanting Remembrance Day to be an important part of their lives so it cycles through subsequent decades. If they’re not in school because it’s a statutory holiday, they may not participate in any way.”Serge Durflinger, Professor of History, University of Ottawa
Many schools across the country have Remembrance Week, so if the day falls on a weekend, the schools will still have various Remembrance Day activities, like visits from veterans and poetry or art contests.
“That’s an argument in favour of going forward and making it a holiday because the kids still get some Remembrance Day activities,” says Durflinger. “But purists will say ‘No, it’s the day itself. We want kids to attend and maybe even organize events in their communities or schools.’ And then there’s hundreds of thousands of Canadian parents who’d like to have the day off work to remember a family member or people in their community and bring their kids and they’d like to make it a bedrock of their annual activities. We’ll never know if that will happen unless we make it a statutory holiday.”
Another point in favour of making it a national holiday is the unifying factor, the idea is that it would be a shared national experience that all Canadians can recognize in one way or another.
“It would move it to the realm of local and elevate it to the realm of national and it would serve a unifying purpose,” Durflinger says. “We’d probably see hundreds of thousands more Canadians at ceremonies, then providing more energy to the concept of Remembrance Day. It would make it a much bigger event.”
The issue of how Remembrance Day is observed across the country has been debated since the 1920s, when Thanksgiving used to be celebrated in November in Canada. By the 1930s, the holiday was pushed back to October after Canadians felt they needed separation between the two days.
“This was a means of putting a little bit of distance between them so Remembrance Day would be much more focused,” says Durflinger.