It was a Remembrance Day like none before.
Cenotaphs and memorial sites that are usually filled with hundreds of people saw just a few people, mostly physically distanced.
There were no parades, no marching bands and far fewer veterans this year, as COVID-19 restrictions kept many away.
In Esquimalt, usually home to one of the bigger ceremonies on the Island, there were less than 100 people. The crowd mainly made up of members of CFB Esquimalt and Legion Branch 172.
“It was a scaled-down Remembrance Day ceremony. We don’t have the marching conventions, or we don’t have the bands,” said CFB Esquimalt Base Commander Capt. Navy Sam Sader.
Much of the usual proceedings may have been cut due to COVID-19, but the laying of wreaths and moments of reflection for those who fought for our freedom was not.
“For our veterans most importantly I think for them and for the fallen, the most important for them is that the future and current generations remember,” said Sader.
In Victoria, it was a similar scene, a very small crowd as expected. However, there were large crowds standing by in the surrounding streets to take it all in, including some powerful words delivered by Rev. Andrew Gates.
“100 years ago another pandemic claimed the lives of millions, and from the ashes of war, pandemic and financial ruin came an ugly generation of despotic, ruthless, barbaric, power-hungry leaders, who took the world to yet another devastation,” Gates said, referring to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
In Nanaimo, it was a similar scene, with a small crowd at the Cenotaph and dozens more safely spread out on nearby streets. In attendance was Victor Osborne, a veteran of the Second World War, who was born on this very day in 1918.
However, many veterans opted not to attend Remembrance Day events due to the current circumstances with COVID-19. Legions around the Island also encouraged older veterans to stay home this year, which was especially hard for 95-year-old Gerald Houlden.
Houlden, who resides at Oak Bay’s Carlton House, says he marched in ceremonies on the Mainland with fellow veterans for decades and that Remembrance Day brings back memories, good and bad.
“I marched with veterans to the cenotaph there and it chokes me up a bit because after I had finished marching, a little boy of about eight or nine years of age came over and shook my hand and handed me a little poem in remembrance,” Houlden said.