By RIchard Lawrence
Friday, 2nd November, marked the start of the Remembrance Week with the annual remembrance ceremony held in the Senate Chambers in the Parliament Buildings. This year’s theme is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending the Great War and the last 100 days from 8th August to 11th November, 1918, where 30 Canadians and Newfoundlanders were awarded Victoria Crosses, accounting for nearly one third of all the Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians in our entire military history.
This ceremony is attended by representatives of many of the veterans’ organizations, some members of both the Senate and House of Commons, selected individual veterans, senior military representatives, and many others involved with veterans affairs. Of note was Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Walt Natynczuk, Mr. Thomas Irvine, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, Vice-Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces along with representatives from veterans organizations, the Royal Military College, the RCMP, and other police forces. The official party was comprised of the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable George Furey, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Bruce Stanton (MP Simcoe-North), the Minister of Veterans Affairs, The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, and the Chaplain-General of the Canadian Armed Forces, Brigadier-General Guy Chapdelaine.
All of the speakers carried a similar theme in that they emphasized the tremendous sacrifices during World War I with special prominence given to the last 100 days where Newfoundland soldiers and the Canadian Corps suffered over 45,000 killed and wounded and for which 30 Victoria Crosses were awarded. They also made mention of the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily and the 300 kilometre march up Italy during which there were over 26,000 casualties, 6,000 fatal. As well, the audience was reminded of the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice, and the 10th anniversary of National Peacekeepers Day and the work done by the Armed Forces and Police Services in more modern conflicts and continuing peacekeeping missions.
They also reflected on the memorials right in the Center Block, starting with the Peace Tower, which is a monument to the soldiers of World War I and where construction was started even as the war raged on. Minister O’Regan stated that the Peace Tower Bells will ring 100 times at sunset on the 11th November to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.
Other reminders included the sacred memorial chapel and the Hall of Honour. Even in the Senate Chamber there are eight huge paintings, commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook and hanging high on the walls since 1921, depicting scenes from WWI showing the brutality, hardships, and the ravages of armed conflict. As noted by Speaker Furey, these memorials remind us that, “So many fought and so many died so that we could do this here in an open, free, and democratic society. Indeed the contributions of Canadians in uniform, not only to this nation’s defence, but to its foundation and identity cannot be overstated.”.
This will be the last ceremony held in the Senate Chambers in the Center Block of the Parliament Buildings as the chamber will be closed down for ten years as the Center Block undergoes renovations (maybe longer as it is a government project). The Senate will be moving to the newly renovated Government Conference Centre in the new year and hopefully this traditional kick-off to Remembrance Week will continue in the new venue.
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