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.
This includes Kamloops, where local Branch 52 of the Legion has finalized plans for what it calls a By Veterans For Veterans Remembrance Day ceremony.
According to Legion past-president Craig Thomson, there will be no public gathering at Riverside Park, there will be no parade, there will be no fly-past by the Royal Canadian Air Force 419 “Moose” Squadron from Cold Lake, the public will not be invited to attend the ceremony, large contingents of military, police and first responders will not be present and there will be no wreath-laying by the general public.
Instead, the official ceremony will be held at the Battle Street Cenotaph, by invitation only, with up to a maximum of 50 people attending.
The format of the ceremony will be very similar to past years, with a Cenotaph guard posted, a colour party and the singing of O Canada and playing of Last Post.
The laying of wreaths will be restricted to local dignitaries, representatives of the government and members of ANAVETS, Royal Canadian Legion, Rocky Mountain Rangers and RCMP. Other than those dignitaries, the ceremony will be restricted to veterans, with the Legion’s two most senior Second World War veterans part of the group at the Cenotaph.
The Legion expects that the number of veterans involved in the ceremony will be about 20, leaving room for about 30 more veterans to attend. Veterans who would like to attend to ceremony can contact the Legion by phone at 250-374-0623 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Preference will be given to those who served during the Second World War, Korean War and in Afghanistan. However, all veterans, including Mounties. are welcome to contact the Legion to attend.
Post-ceremony socializing will be also be different this year. The Rocky Mountain Rangers armoury will not be open to the public, while the ANAVETS Unit will be restricted to members only and the Legion will be restricted to members and veterans only.
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, said "it is sad that we have to limit the numbers.”
The Victory Square ceremony is believed to be the second largest in Canada after Ottawa's, with about 20,000 people attending each year. 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."
Royal Canadian Legion national director of communications Nujma Bond said that despite the restrictions across Canada, 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.
Poppy, wreath sales continue
The Royal Canadian Legion is still urging people to order wreaths by calling its office at 250-374-0623. Those wreaths will be brought to the Cenotaph prior to the Remembrance Day ceremony.
Proceeds of wreath sales and donations to the Poppy Campaign go to programs that directly support veterans and their families. Poppy boxes will be distributed throughout the Kamloops area, giving people the opportunity to donate in the usual manner.
The Remembrance Day event will be live streamed on the Kamloops Branch 52 Legion Facebook page and on CFJC-TV.
—with a file from Canadian Press