Remembrance Day will be low key in Renfrew

·4 min read

Renfrew –The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 148 in Renfrew has cancelled the majority of traditional Remembrance Day activities including the formal laying of the wreaths in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives while in the service of their country.

There will not be a formal Remembrance Day outdoor ceremony and the organizing committee tasked with organizing the event that has attracted more than 500 participants over the last several years has listed the continued presence of the COVID-19 virus and its variants as the main reason for their decision. Similar to the 2020 event, representatives of the Legion’s Poppy Committee are worried about the possibility a large gathering of people in the small area surrounding the town’s cenotaph could result in one or more individuals contracting the highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus.

Reverend Bruce Ferguson, 1st Vice-President and chair of the annual Poppy Campaign, said it was a combination of factors that led to him making the final decision to again drastically scale back the traditional ceremony that has not only attracted crowds with people standing shoulder to shoulder, but a formal parade of current and past soldiers marching to the cenotaph.

“Believe me when I tell you if there was a way to host hundreds of residents and guarantee their safety, we would not hesitate for one minute to get it done,” he told the Leader. “You could almost argue it is one of the core duties of a Legion to organize the Remembrance Day event and I can tell you none of us, past or present, takes any joy in telling people to stay home so that we don’t have the usual overflowing crowds like we have had over the last 10 years.”

The annual poppy campaign kicked off last Friday but instead of volunteers going out to busy locations in Renfrew to sell poppies, the committee left collection boxes at several local retail outlets for anyone wishing to purchase a poppy.

Rev. Ferguson said November 11 will be very low key, with the hope that by staying home, it will allow people to pay homage in a more personal way, and more importantly, a much safer way.

“It is the same as last year and we are sending out letters to local businesses requesting donations for the wreaths and they will be placed at the cenotaph by Legion members prior to the small ceremony at Low Square,” he said. “There will be a bare-bones ceremony including a colour guard. We will be singing songs, but it will likely be limited to two songs which will likely be our National Anthem and God Save The Queen.”

Rev. Ferguson is aware some Legion members and several residents are not happy with his decision.

He noted unlike several events administered by the Legion where they are either ordered to complete a task or seek permission from Legion Command in Ottawa, the decision to reduce or even cancel a Remembrance Day ceremony rests with the individual Poppy Campaign Chairperson.

“I consulted with my fellow Legion members and they support my decision and believe me it is not a decision I enjoyed making. I bear responsibility for any fallout that may come, but I would rather be blamed for cancelling or reducing the Remembrance Day ceremony than have to live with the guilt of allowing a full ceremony jammed with people and find out later someone may have gotten sick or even died because they were in attendance with hundreds of others when it could have been prevented.”

He pointed out even if a full ceremony were held, some elements of previous parades would not likely be included.

“I don’t think people realize that one of the highlights of the ceremony is the Renfrew Highland Pipes and Drums and they have not even been practicing over the last year,” he said. “Even if we held a full event, they would not be included because they will not perform if they are not 100 percent ready. They take too much pride in their historic past to try and take part and not be able to fully show their amazing skills.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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