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Cape Breton Remembers


The parade arrives at Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S.
You didn’t need a map to find this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Sydney, N.S.; you just had to follow the crowds.

Starting early on the morning of Nov. 11th, thousands of Cape Breton Islanders were streaming through the downtown heading toward Centre 200, the local hockey rink, casino and performing arts centre. Inside the rink, the ice had been covered up and hundreds of chairs were set on the boarded-up surface, facing a stage and small cenotaph. The parade came in just after 9 a.m., led by a contingent of RCMP with local police and a mass of soldiers and veterans behind. The best estimate placed the number of marchers at more than 400.

Originally, three Second World War veterans were set to be on the reviewing stand for the parade, but two could not make it due to illness, leaving Betty Metcalfe, 93, formerly of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, to take the salute. The program began with the Brookland Elementary choir singing war-era songs, including Keep The Home Fires Burning. Until the ceremony itself began, the ever-growing crowd was entertained by performances from local students and musicians. They read letters home from war, both from the world wars and from Afghanistan, comparing the sentiments. Popular musician Matt Minglewood sang his tribute to soldiers in Afghanistan, which he wrote after visiting the country. Students also read the names of locals who died serving their country.

Special guests stand on stage behind the cenotaph amid scenes of remembrance at Centre 200.
After the ceremony concluded with the traditional two minutes of silence, Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command District A Commander Ted Martens delivered the keynote address. A member of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War, Martens joined the Dutch military before moving to Canada in the 1950s. His speech was a rousing and well-received overview of the importance of remembrance that concluded with a series of reminders that those who survive war need to be cared for. “What was owed to the veterans of yesterday is also owed to the veterans of today,” said Martens, to which the crowd responded with spontaneous applause. “‘Never has so much been owed by so many to so few,’” he said, quoting Winston Churchill. “Too many veterans are falling through the cracks,” he said to more applause. “Today we honour and remember; tomorrow we must carry the torch again.”

The Brookland Elementary choir sings.
Local MP Mark Eyking summed up the day as he stood at the microphone, looked out at the crowd and said, “It’s a proud day for Cape Breton Island.” Lifelong Sydney-resident Melanie Sampson was in the stands for the entire event. “I cried as they paraded in,” she confessed. “It was seeing my dad at the head of the parade with all his friends he’s had over the years, all in their uniforms. It was just so much respect for all that they’ve done to sacrifice for our freedoms.” Sampson’s dad, Dave Kane, is a veteran and the Sgt.-at-Arms for Ashby Branch. By tradition, several of Sydney’s Legion branches typically team up to host a city-wide ceremony, and this year Ashby Branch was responsible for taking the lead in organizing the events. After the main event, Ashby Branch—led by President Lowell Crowe—held its own wreath-placing ceremony on their upper floor. During the well-attended ceremony, dozens of wreaths were placed in honour of local veterans, families and loved ones. This was the first time Sydney had held their ceremony in the Centre 200. Previously, it had been held in local school gymnasiums. “The whole thing began back in February,” explained Mel Crowe, Ashby Branch member, brother of Lowell and Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command’s second vice-president. “We had a couple of members who’d been pushing to have it in Centre 200 for a couple of years now and when it became our turn to lead again, we decided we’d give it a try.”

Pipes are played.
Immediately, the Legionnaires found their idea supported, as the town of Sydney donated use of Centre 200. “It turned out to be a beautiful venue,” said Mel Crowe. “We had a fantastic crowd and everything went well; it was a really good day.” With attendance estimates ranging from 2,500 to more than 3,000, this was one of Sydney’s largest Remembrance Day ceremonies, a fact many attribute to the terrorism-inspired attacks in October that killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo. “Our biggest fear was that we wouldn’t get a big crowd,” said Mel Crowe. “Well, circumstances being what they are in the last month-and-a-half dictated the reason we had a big crowd.” The deaths of Vincent and Cirillo certainly loomed above this year’s ceremony, coming as a reminder that the world is not at peace and that soldiers past and present are the foundation of Canada’s security and freedom.


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