November 11, 2021, was as beautiful an autumn day as anyone could've asked for. A layer of frost hung onto every surface, and as the sun shown down, rays created a shimmering glow that was breathtaking to see. At the Cenotaph in Whitecourt, at the Senior's Circle, a large crowd arrived at 10:45 am to pay their respects and honour those who stood and still stand on guard for this country.
Typically, Remembrance Day would've included an indoor celebration and a parade, but restrictions in place made that impossible. Instead, members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #44 decided to hold a small, intimate ceremony in front of the Cenotaph.
Pastor Clayton Puddicombe spoke of the beautiful weather as he began the ceremony with a Treaty 6 territory acknowledgement, recognizing the area as a gathering place and travelling route to Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Metis, Dene, and Nakota Sioux. "We are fortunate that it is a beautiful day outside today. We shouldn't even be too cold, but if you are a little bit, be warmed by knowing that soldiers never get to pick the weather or choose the conditions. Let this be a small act of standing in solidarity with those who have fought and are fighting for us. It is so important to remember those who fought for our freedom and to honour them and future generations to commit to that same freedom."
Pastor Puddicombe thanked members from the Whitecourt Legion for adapting to the changing restrictions and persisting forward to make way for the service to happen. "It will be short, but we trust, just as significant." He then began a moment of prayer. "Almighty God, you are our refuge and strength. We humble ourselves in your presence and remember the great things that you have done for us. We lift up our hearts in adoration and praise. As you have gathered us together on this day, we give you thanks for all who served their country, our country, in times of turmoil. Remembrance of those who made the supreme sacrifice, make us better men and women and give us peace in our time, Oh Lord. Amen."
As Pastor Puddicombe spoke, a hush descended on the large crowd that had gathered in a half-moon shape from one end of the roadway to the other. "God will judge between the nations, and He will settle disputes for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore. This is God's power, and it is our prayer."
It was then time for the sound of the trumpet to pierce through the crisp autumn air. For 90 seconds, trumpeter Isaiah Matson played the Last Post. Following the final long, drawn-out note, the area descended into silence for two minutes before being awoken by the sound of the bagpipes as Landis Vandermeer gave his rendition of the Lament. The final performance belonged to Matson once again as he performed the Rouse.
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them," said Pastor Puddicombe, reciting the Act of Remembrance. Six wreaths were then laid at the Cenotaph. A memorial Silver Cross by the Bartsch Family was laid first, followed by one for the Government of Canada, Government of Alberta, Woodlands County, Town of Whitecourt, and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #44.
In the crowd, some parents had brought their children along with them to the ceremony. Jay Thebeau, whose son, Ben, stood guard at the Cenotaph as a member of the Whitecourt Air Cadets, said that it's crucial for children to attend events like these. "It's a show of respect to your country and your community. Many people died in the wars, and it is important to remember the cost of freedom. It's good that children are aware that what they enjoy today isn't free. It cost somebody something. If they want to keep it, it could cost them something too."
Watching his son take part was a proud moment for Thebeau. "The cadet program teaches self-discipline and respect to authority. There's lots of value there. He loves the program, so for me, it's special to see him out there. With the COVID lockdowns, they haven't been able to do anything, and they were even out of practice with their riffle drills and had to do a refresher just before, so it's good to see them up there, and it's good for him to have a chance to partake in something like this."
Thebeau was also there to reflect on his family's Remembrance Day connection. "My wife's grandfather fought in WWII. He was a tank commander in the Royal Dutch Army. I remember him telling stories about the war and about how soft we have it today. Many people went through hellish experiences and suffered the rest of their lives for the trauma they were exposed to in those wars. So, we ought to think about them, and we ought to respect them, and we ought to remember them."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press