Smaller communities in Southwestern Ontario are finding alternative ways to honour veterans with Remembrance Day ceremonies mostly cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In St. Marys, banners honouring veterans hang throughout the town of about 7,300.
“It’s been fantastic. It really has been a very positive reaction,” said Tom Jenkins, president of the St. Marys Legion. “You see people all the time stopping, some folks just wandering around town, checking them out.”
It’s a happy coincidence that the banner project coincided with a year that would see most Remembrance Day ceremonies cancelled, Jenkins said.
The St. Marys Legion usually holds a parade, but this year wreaths will be laid in advance for an invitation-only ceremony at the cenotaph.
The idea for the veteran banners came after seeing them in other small towns, like Mitchell and Seaforth, Jenkins said.
Residents can request banners through the legion to honour family members with ties to St. Marys.
St. Marys Legion hoped to fill 13 posts and brackets in the downtown core, Jenkins said, but it surpassed that, with banners spilling into side streets and later, shop windows.
The 55 banners hanging throughout the town honour veterans from the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia and some active service members.
Jenkins said 22 people are on a waitlist for banners next year.
“It’s a wonderful thing we’ve had happen here in town," Jenkins said.
In Thames Centre, Deputy Mayor Kelly Elliott is sharing the stories of area veterans through a social media project on Facebook and Twitter.
“I thought it would be really cool since we weren’t doing a Remembrance Day that it would be a great chance to get some of these stories out,” Elliott said.
Elliott pulled some stories from history books about front-line soldiers, nurses and doctors from the First and Second World Wars and other came from local resident Jodi McGuffin.
“We know that these men and women went off to war, but unless you knew them personally you don’t know who they are or where they came from, or their life story,” Elliott said.
Thorndale cancelled its Remembrance Day ceremony and designated times are allotted for residents to lay wreaths at the cenotaph.
Elliott said her posts are getting a “great reception."
“There’s still that connection to the older generations that I think is really felt in the rural communities,” she said. “You just don’t want to lose those stories.”
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press