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

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

Just Posted

Kurt Swanson’s dog Kona takes a break from the heat on the Summer Solstice near Cranbrook, B.C. (Kurt Swanson photo)
Very warm temperatures forecast across the Kootenays this weekend

Nelson, Castlegar forecast to hit 39, Cranbrook 37

With high temperatures forecasted for the week and into the next, Interior Health is offering some tips on how to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness. (Pixabay)
Interior Health offers safety tips as temperatures soar

‘Too much heat can be harmful to your health’

The view from the Eager Hill lookout in the Cranbrook Community Forest. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
New ‘Padawan’ trail at Eager Hill now open and ready for use

The 5km green flow trail is suitable for all ages

The City of Cranbrook and the Ktunaxa Nation raised the flag of the Ktunaxa Nation at the arches entrance into the city’s downtown core during a ceremony on Monday, June 21. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Ktunaxa Nation flag raised at downtown arches entrance

The Ktunaxa Nation flag was raised at the Cranbrook arches — the… Continue reading

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

Pictured is Mrs. O and her grade 4/5 class at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Cranbrook. Mrs. O challenged her class to read 36,000 pages in May and they far surpassed that goal. The students were then allowed to choose her fate. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
WATCH: St. Mary’s Catholic School grade 4/5 class wins reading challenge

Teacher lets students choose fate after reading over 47,000 pages in one month

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s so easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton of Point Roberts, Wash.

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

People enjoy the sun at Woodbine Beach on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
BC Hydro assures customers it has ‘more than enough’ power to weather the heatwave

Despite an increase of pressure on the Western grid, blackouts are not expected like in some U.S. states

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pilots say no reason to continue quarantines for vaccinated international travellers

Prime minister says Canada still trying to limit number of incoming tourists

Six United Way chapters around the province are merging into United Way B.C. (News Bulletin file photo)
6 United Way chapters merging around B.C.

Money raised in communities will stay in those communities, agency says

Most Read