Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory joined hundreds gathered at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto Sunday afternoon to mark the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
"More than 100 years later, it is so important for us to keep the memory of all of those who were displaced, deported and killed alive in our hearts and our minds," Wynne said. "We know that many of those who survived the Armenian genocide found refuge here in Ontario."
The killing of more than 200 Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915 is regarded as the start of the massacre that is widely viewed by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century, in which they estimate 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered.
Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, vehemently rejects that the deaths constitute genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Wynne said Sunday that Ontario was one of the first regions in the world to recognize the genocide.
"The Armenian community here in Ontario, along with Armenians around the world have worked hard to ensure what happened to the Armenian people and their culture is both recognized and remembered," she said.
"You remind us that we must be vigilant, and you remind us that we must speak out against hatred or prejudice or violence of any kind."
Efforts to help Syrian refugees recognized
The premier also made note of the Armenian Community Centre's efforts to help Syrian-Armenian families affected by the Syrian refugee crisis.
"You punched way, way, way above your weight in that work," Wynne said. "It's a testament to your kindness and generosity, and it's a reflection of the kind of province that we are working to build together."
In speaking to the those gathered to mark the anniversary, Tory said it was his honour to stand with the Armenian community, and he added he would work with the centre to find a place to permanently memorialize the Armenian genocide in Toronto.
Like the premier, Tory also noted the centre's contribution to helping Syrian refugees.
"Nothing that you could do here would do more honour to those who were lost in the genocide than to do that work of bringing these people here and making them feel welcome and continuing to honour them, and to make sure they are receiving the all of the advantages of our way of life," he said.