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Unshaken In Resolve

As a bell in the Peace Tower sounded the 11th hour and two minutes of silence fell, tens of thousands of people—standing shoulder to shoulder in Canadian pride—attended the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.

As a bell in the Peace Tower sounded the 11th hour and two minutes of silence fell, tens of thousands of people—standing shoulder to shoulder in Canadian pride—attended the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.

More than 50,000 people—tightly packed and spread out in every direction from the National War Memorial amidst heightened security—travelled from near and far to pay their respects and remember the more than 1.5 million Canadians who served throughout our nation’s history and the 118,000 who left their homes and families never to return.

Soaking up the unusually warm temperatures for November, young and old, families, serving members and veterans began lining up behind the barricades as early as 6 a.m. with poppies pinned proudly to their lapels, Canadian and homemade flags, flowers, signs and even personal mementos to remind them of the loved ones they lost.

A poppy is placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following the national Remembrance Day ceremony.
Their thoughts drifted to familiar faces and names—a son, a comrade, a grandfather, great-grandfather, an uncle, a sister, a fiancé—and also to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who just 20 days before was shot dead while standing ceremonial guard at the very memorial they gathered around.

“There’s so many that I’ve lost. Every year it gets a little bit more heart tugging to remember all the people that have gone,” said 86-year-old Donald Carrington, who, originally from Hamilton, was a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, and then served in the regular forces with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps. “Especially this year I think of Cpl. Cirillo who was from my regiment. I had to come down and pay my respects to him and to all those fellows up there.”

On Oct. 22, the 24-year-old corporal was standing sentry when a gunman shot and killed him before rushing into the Centre Block on Parliament Hill where, following an exchange of gunfire, the assailant was shot dead. In minutes, a senseless act of violence took the life of a Canadian soldier and turned a place of remembrance and solace into a crime scene. This happened just two days after Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was killed in a hit-and-run attack in a strip mall parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., while helping a colleague visit a Veterans Affairs service centre.

Some of the more than 50,000 people at the ceremony.
For many, the memories are still fresh as they continue to come to terms with the deaths of Cirillo and Vincent and the attack on the Nation’s Capital. Yet despite feelings of fear, anger and sorrow, what unfolded on Nov. 11 was an overwhelming show of gratitude and admiration for all who have died in war and peace and the silent determination to prove to the world the strength and resiliency of our nation.

“I’m here to show my respect for the soldiers who sacrificed so much, especially with the events that have taken place recently right here at the memorial, I wanted to make sure that I was here to show veterans that we think of them and we appreciate what they’ve done for us,” said Denis Bruneau of Ottawa who arrived at 7:30 a.m. to claim his spot. “I come every year and try to be right here in front.”

Silver Cross Mother Gisèle Michaud.
Richard and Luann Busch travelled to Ottawa from Cambridge, Ont., to attend the national ceremony for the first time.

“We made plans to come because of the 100th anniversary and it just so happened that a number of other events have taken place that makes it very special as well,” said Busch, his wife adding that attending the service was on his bucket list. “We’ll be thinking of all of our soldiers who passed on and were killed, but certainly the ones in the forces today because they’re all vulnerable as well.”

As the second gun of the 30th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, broke the two minutes of silence, a piper’s lament and trumpeter’s rouse followed. Overhead, two CF-18s roared past as Legion Dominion President Tom Eagles recited the Act of Remembrance in English, followed by Legion Grand President Larry Murray in French and Aboriginal Veteran Alex Maurice in Michif.

Marching veterans are greeted with applause.
New to this year’s ceremony was the rededication of the National War Memorial. Dates of the South African War and the Afghanistan mission were added to the memorial and the inscription “In Service To Canada” is now emblazoned on the granite face to recognize all those who served. The Princess Royal (Princess Anne), whose grandfather King George VI first unveiled the memorial to 100,000 people in 1939, read a message from Queen Elizabeth II. Governor General David Johnston also delivered a speech.

“And now here we stand, and here we shall remain: unshaken in resolve; grateful in remembrance of those who have sacrificed; rededicated, like this memorial, to our eternal duty: peace and freedom—the very soul of our nation,” said Johnston. “Lest we forget.”

Following the rededication of the memorial, Brigadier-General John Fletcher, Chaplain General to the Canadian Armed Forces and Honorary Chaplain of the Legion’s Dominion Command, offered prayers.

Members of the viceregal party (from left) Sharon Johnston, Governor General David Johnston, the Princess Royal (Princess Anne), Sir Timothy Laurence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Laureen Harper, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, Legion Dominion President Tom Eagles.
As the opening words of In Flanders Fields rose from the Ottawa Children’s Choir, Princess Anne and Johnston began the wreath-placing ceremony. Silver Cross Mother Gisèle Michaud paused for a moment longer with her hand to her chest after she placed a wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child in the line of duty. Her son, Master Corporal Charles-Philippe Michaud, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment and died July 4, 2009, from critical injuries sustained after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in the Panjwaii District southwest of Kandahar.

“When he was injured, since his last moment he was conscious, he told the guys, ‘Stop crying, guys. Take care of yourself, because the Taliban is not far,’” said Michaud, remembering the strength of her son, whom she had spoken to on the phone just three days before he was wounded.

Youth representatives (from left) Sarah Jessica Butler, Darynn Bednarczyk, Hareem Masroor, Joo Hee Chung.
Master Corporal Michaud was transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where he stayed for five days before he was put into a medically-induced coma to be transported to a Quebec City hospital on June 28, 2009.

“He knew he was dying and he didn’t want to die over there,” explained Michaud who lives in Edmundston, N.B., and was accompanied by her husband Conrad and son Denis. “Before he left on his mission, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back.’ So he came to die with us with all his wounds.” Michaud said that since her son’s death, members of his regiment come to her home whenever they can to visit her family and share stories of their time in Afghanistan with their friend and brother “Chuck.”

Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa parade past the memorial.
Other members of the viceregal party who placed a wreath included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson, Legion Dominion President Tom Eagles for the Veterans of Canada, Speaker of the Senate Noël Kinsella, and youth representatives Sarah Jessica Butler, Joo Hee Chung, Darynn Bednarczyk, Hareem Masroor, wreath bearers CPO1 David Ficht (Sea Cadet), C/CWO Teegan Martin (Army Cadet), and WOII David Joiner (Air Cadet). These were followed by wreaths that were placed by veterans organizations, the Diplomatic Corps, various associations and the public.

Dominion Command Honorary Chaplain Rabbi Reuven Bulka delivered the benediction saying the memorial had been violated, yet it remains a sacred place. “We love our troops!” he yelled out to thunderous applause from the crowd.

The ceremony drew to a close as the Massed Pipes and Drums, the Canadian Armed Forces Central Band and Governor General’s Foot Guards played for the march past of veterans and military contingents.

Members of the viceregal party arrive for the ceremony.
Although the official ceremony was over, the crowd lingered for hours afterward, some chatting quietly or standing in reflective silence, others making quick phone calls to relatives or friends to thank them for their service.

Louise St. Jean of Gatineau, Que., sat off to the side, cradling in her hands a black-and-white photograph of her father, Horace St. Jean, in uniform. “This is my father during the Second World War; I always bring his picture,” she said, fresh tears springing to her eyes as she recalled her parents’ love story. “It’s important to me. I feel close to him.”

Around her, people slowly moved toward the memorial to carpet the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with red poppies.


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