Citizens gathered with heads bowed for Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada Saturday at a time when wars rage in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip and peace seems far off for many.
Processions and wreath-layings in Atlantic Canada kicked off the country’s events, with veterans, officials and politicians of all stripes gathering in cities including St. John’s and Fredericton to honour those who’ve fought.
Rev. Bob Jones, 92, was a chaplain with the Canadian military for 20 years, and he was at the Fredericton Cenotaph to listen to the names of each fallen soldier as they were read off by officials and to remember what they endured.
The Second World War concluded when Jones was 14, but he said his military career took him to Israel for six months.
“When I was there it was relatively peaceful, although the thing was, you never knew what would happen,” Jones said, adding that he regretted not visiting the Gaza War Cemetery while he was there.
“If I had known what we know now, maybe I should have made a special effort to have gotten there.”
Remembrance Day in Canada began with news that doctors at the largest hospital in Gaza said five patients had died after the facility’s last generator ran out of fuel. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. An estimated 1,200 Israelis were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks by the militant group Hamas — which Canada classifies as a terrorist organization — that set off the current conflict.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians are bracing for another winter of war as Russia’s invasion continues.
In a Remembrance Day statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged Canadians to wear a poppy and take two minutes of silence to honour Canadian Armed Forces members who have fought, as well as those who have taken part in peacekeeping missions including training Ukrainian soldiers.
“Remembrance Day is an opportunity to recognize members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have courageously answered the call of duty. When it was needed most, they left behind their families and homes,” Trudeau said. “Many returned with severe trauma – or didn’t return at all. Their sacrifice is a debt that we can never repay.”
In Ottawa, the prime minister shook hands with veterans and dignitaries at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial.
Back at the Fredericton Cenotaph, where snowflakes speckled the grey skies, Michele Doran was among the hundreds gathered to pay their respects. Her late father-in-law fought in the Korean War in the 1950s, and she brought her two-year-old son, Max, to the ceremonies to teach him to honour veterans like his grandfather.
“I think it’s really important even for young children to be here,” Doran said in an interview. “We wouldn’t be here today without all these veterans.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2023.
– With files from Hina Alam in Fredericton and The Associated Press