The Royal Canadian Legion is doing what was once the unthinkable: Discouraging people from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in person this year. The 2019 National Silver Cross Mother, Reine Samson Dawe, middle left, and Governor General Julie Payette, middle left, watched the parade during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Remembrance Day planners scrambling as COVID-19 upends traditional ceremonies

Legion branches are scrambling to plan stripped-down versions of the annual sombre ceremonies

The Royal Canadian Legion is taking the unprecedented step of discouraging Canadians from attending Remembrance Day ceremonies this year as COVID-19 upends the traditional ways of honouring those who sacrificed their lives for Canada.

Legion branches across the country are scrambling to plan stripped-down versions of the annual sombre ceremonies on Nov. 11 as many local governments restrict large-scale gatherings due to the rising number of new COVID-19 cases.

That includes in Ottawa, where as many as 30,000 Canadians gather alongside hundreds of veterans and serving military personnel every year to mark Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial.

This year’s national ceremony will include many traditional elements such as the playing of Last Post and the lament, the singing of In Flanders Fields along with the boom of cannons, prayers and a military flyby, said legion director of communications Nujma Bond.

But some changes due to COVID-19 will be unmistakable, with the decision to cancel the parade of elderly veterans, serving military members and school-aged cadets that has long been a fixture of the event.

The Department of National Defence has decided not to have cadets attend in-person Remembrance Day events across Canada, said spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier. The involvement of Canadian Armed Forces personnel is also being limited, he added, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.

The decision to cancel the annual veterans’ parade in Ottawa is particularly striking given the shrinking number of Canadians still alive who served in the Second World War and Korea. Some now in their 80s and 90s have braved the cold for decades to attend the ceremony, but age puts them at high risk from COVID-19.

Instead, only a handful of people will be on hand at the cenotaph, as the Legion asks Canadians abide by local public-health guidelines and watch the ceremony on TV or online rather than in person.

“For the first time ever, we will be discouraging spectators from coming down to the National War Memorial,” said Bond. “It’s most definitely a shame this year that we’re all having to work within the constraints that this pandemic has brought.”

About 30,000 people attend the national ceremony every year, Bond added.

The same reluctant request is being made by legion branches in other parts of the country even as organizers iron out details amid shifting public-health guidelines.

One of those is Legion Branch 5 in Thunder Bay, Ont., whose annual outdoor parade and ceremony typically involves up to 150 veterans, military personnel, cadets and volunteers, and is observed by around 500 people.

“Obviously with the restrictions that are placed on us by the province and the local health unit, we had been down to 100 because we were outside,” said branch president Lester Newman. “We’re still not sure if that’s been completely whittled down again, which would all but stop it.”

(The Ottawa ceremony has the city’s permission for up to 100 people due to the nature of the commemoration, Bond said, “though clearly anything can happen between now and then.”)

READ MORE: Legion to hold private Remembrance Day ceremony this year in Veterans’ Square

Newman, who served 42 years as a naval reservist before retiring as a lieutenant-commander, said he has been attending Remembrance Day ceremonies for decades and that it is “part of my makeup.”

The event organized by Legion Branch 5 is particularly important for remembering the three soldiers from Thunder Bay who died in Afghanistan, Newman said. Cpl. Anthony Boneca, Pte. Robert Costall and Pte. Josh Klukie died in separate incidents in 2006.

Despite the restrictions in Ottawa and elsewhere across Canada, Bond said the ceremonies will remain unchanged in their reverence paid to Canada’s veterans, and some of the familiar elements.

“And we are very hopeful and invite people to participate in other ways,” she added. “It’s such a key moment for the Legion every year, it’s a key moment for veterans, and for many Canadians.”

Ways to participate include not only watching on TV or online, but wearing poppies once they become available later this month and recognizing two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 no matter where people are.

Still, “it is sad that we have to limit the numbers,” said Bob Underhill, vice-president of the legion’s operations in B.C. and Yukon and head of the organizing committee for the ceremony in Vancouver’s Victory Square.

The Victory Square ceremony is believed to be the second largest in Canada after Ottawa’s, with about 20,000 people attending each year. But this year, Underhill said the number is being kept under the local maximum of 50.

“We’re trying to arrange for our bands and soloists to do their part virtually, not to attract people down to Victory Square,” Underhill said.

“We’re going to have our official wreath-laying at the site, but we’re going to try and minimize what we’re actually doing at the site so as to not attract attention and get people gathering because we’re under the 50-person maximum. It’s going to be very different.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRemembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCaubry dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)
Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCaubry

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
(Black Press Media file photo)
Spooky online class cooks up funds for Greater Victoria Imagination Library

United Way Greater Victoria offers how-to for witch cookies, tasty coffin as fundraiser

Murray Rankin has announced he will seek the nomination for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding in the 2021 provincial election (which could happen in the fall of 2020). The former Minister of Parliament for the Victoria riding from 2012 to 2019.
(MurrayRankin.com)
New Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin says he will use his federal connections

Rankin said being part of NDP majority government gives him a strong voice

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Most Read