Thousands attend Remembrance Day ceremony at B.C. legislature in Victoria

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VICTORIA — A larger than expected crowd turned out for a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph outside the British Columbia legislature in Victoria.

Rev. Andrew Gates, who officiated over the ceremony, remarked on the surprising size of the crowd, saying attendance estimates likely influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic were obviously much too low.

A B.C. legislature official estimated that almost 3,000 people attended, which ended just as rain showers erupted into a pelting downpour.

"We only made 200 programs, thinking there would be maybe 50 people here," Gates said Thursday. "It's wonderful to see you here."

Barely 50 people attended last year's Victoria ceremony, which was conducted under strict physical distancing protocols as COVID-19 cases increased.

Some wore masks at Thursday's outdoor ceremony, while many stayed at safe distances from others.

Gates referred to the pandemic in his benediction, saying COVID-19 was causing people to grieve for lost loved ones, just as the Spanish Flu did during the First World War.

"This pandemic is different though no less deadly, but not much else has changed over the past 100 years," he said. "We still grieve those who are missing, the children and those who have died. Even our prayers are much the same, and we say them year after year after year."

Gerald Hatton said he walked halfway across the city to attend his first Remembrance Day ceremony in Victoria after recently moving from Toronto.

"I thought it was very tasteful," said Hatton, whose father and grandfather both served in Canada's military. "There was not a lot of hoopla and not a lot of beating of the chest."

Carolyn McRae said she came from nearby Sidney to attend the ceremony.

She said both her father and grandfather served in the military.

"My dad was in the navy here during the war and that's where he met my mom," McRae said. "So, I always think about him."

The ceremony in Victoria was one of many held in communities across the province as thousands came out to honour their veterans.

In Kelowna, protesters disrupted Remembrance Day events just before 11 a.m., the RCMP said in a news release.

About 75 to 100 demonstrators were at the cenotaph, police said.

Kelowna's deputy mayor said she is angry with the people who were protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates while others gathered to mark Remembrance Day.

Mohini Singh said the protesters owe veterans an apology.

A statement from RCMP Insp. Adam MacIntosh said officers support a person or group's right to protest.

"But when they choose to wilfully interrupt the assembly of citizens at a Remembrance Day ceremony; this is a step too far," it said.

The RCMP will investigate the event to determine what offence, criminal or otherwise, may have been committed, the statement said.

About 100 people gathered at the Ambassador of Peace Korean War Memorial in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday afternoon for a special remembrance and wreath-laying ceremony for those who served in the Korean War.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan, who is a Vancouver MP, attended the ceremony along with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, other elected officials, the consul general of the Republic of Korea, Byung-won Chung, and Korean community leaders.

"It's a day of reflection for me and all Canadians," said Sajjan, who served in the Canadian military and as minister of national defence until earlier this fall.

"It's a reflection to say thank you to all the members who made the ultimate sacrifice in all the various campaigns for us, to give us this beautiful life that we live in this country," he said.

He is working with Senator Yonah Martin, honorary grand patron of the Korea War Veterans of Canada, to commemorate the soldiers who served there, Sajjan added.

In Victoria, Gates urged people to live life deeply by standing up against oppression and working for justice.

He said people can bring peace despite the ongoing discomforts and conflicts in the world.

"And may God bless you with foolishness," said Gates. "The foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done."

— With files from News 1150 and City News 1130.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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