Oak Bay cenotaph ceremony includes inclusivity tweaks

Oak Bay’s Remembrance Day service starts at 10:55 a.m. at the Oak Bay cenotaph, 2800 Beach Dr.

Expect a few minor changes to Friday’s Remembrance Day services in an effort to make the ceremony more welcoming and inclusive.

In a bid to be more inclusive, Oak Bay’s Cenotaph Ceremony Committee instigated several incremental but significant changes to this year’s Remembrance Day Ceremony.

“The Canadian culture has changed since the Second World War,” said Kent Thom, deputy chief with Oak Bay Police Department, one of the organizers of the annual Nov. 11 ceremony.

“We’re just trying to be a little more inclusive now, the old program was very traditional and it had been the same program for a number of years. The main focus is to recognize a diversity of cultures, languages, religions and all the different spiritual beliefs.”

For the first time, the ceremony will begin with an acknowledgement of the Lkwungen-speaking people (Songhees and Esquimalt Nations).

“One of the most important to me is including the acknowledgement of the Lkwungen territory and inviting a Songhees council member,” said committee member Rev. Michelle Slater, Oak Bay United Church. “We know there were many First Nations members who fought in the Great Wars. … This is another step on the journey of reconciliation with First Nations people.”

Songhees Coun. Jackie Albany is expected to lay a wreath.

“We’ve never had a wreath laid by the Songhees Nation – that’s a first this year and just a recognition that we’re on their territory. That’s never been done before,” Thom said.

In the past, different clergy presented various portions of the service.

“Some years we couldn’t select who we wanted to be there; we would take whoever was available,” said Thom. “Now … some people who are non-clergy taking part.”

All prayers will comply with the CAF chaplaincy policy on Public Prayer at Military Ceremonies that acknowledges the diversity of belief systems in the CAF, and that fosters respectful support for and affirmation of that diversity.

Oak Bay Police Chaplain Ben Yablonski will lead the ceremony and a pair of young Monterey Middle School students will read In Flanders Fields, a poem the mayor relayed in recent years.

“Having the kids involved in the actual program was one of our priorities,” Thom said. “Having the youth included more was one of the points raised in the committee and we all agreed. Remembrance Day ceremonies … there was a period there when not many young families were attending the ceremony. Now we’re seeing more and more young families and youth.”

Afghanistan veteran Tatyana Danylyshyn, 31, also a top shooter in the Canadian Forces, will offer the Reflection.

“It’s especially important to me at this time of year we tend to think of our war veterans as aged …. but we have a whole new generation of veterans who are also coming home,” Slater said, noting some suffer effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “These are young adults in our midst who need to be cared for an supported just as we want to honour our older vets.”

The committee expects to have some physical changes to the cenotaph by next year’s ceremony. This year, Oak Bay firefighters and police officers will continue to escort those challenged navigating the rock stairway.

“They’re going to try and do some physical changes to the setup there to make it easier for them to go up and down,” Thom said. “You’re going to see more changes as the years progress. All of the music will remain the same (this year), but that will change. There will be more songs than hymns I think in the future. There will be some people disappointed with changes, but I think for the most part people will understand why there are changes needed.”

It remains a work in progress, Slater said. “It’s not finished. I hope it will continue to evolve. It would be great if we could have representatives of other faiths, not just Christian clergy,” she said. “It’s an overall attempt to continue to broaden the approach so it is much more diverse and inclusive of people of all faiths and people of no faith but (who have) good will.”