Dr. Robert S. Thomson reads from Why Stay We Here by George Godwin, who was Thomson’s great-uncle. From YouTube.
The First Armistice Day
King George V sent out an appeal to the Empire on November 6, 1919, urging that the year-old Armistice be marked by the suspension of all activities and the observance of two minutes of silence at precisely 11 AM on November 11. In this way Canada marked its first Armistice Day.
In May 1921 an Act of Parliament declared that an annual Armistice Day would be held on the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell. Oddly, though, the day was joined with the celebration of THANKSGIVING DAY, a day that featured sports, turkey dinners and light recreation. This anomaly, which confused the public and angered the veterans, came to an end on March 18, 1931, when MP A.W. Neil introduced a motion in the House of Commons to have Armistice Day observed on November 11 and "on no other date." Another MP, C.W. Dickie of Nanaimo, moved an amendment to change the name from "Armistice Day" to "Remembrance Day." This renaming placed the emphasis more upon the soldiers whose deaths were being remembered, rather upon an abstract act by diplomats and politicians. Parliament adopted these resolutions as an amendment to the Armistice Day Act, and Canada held its first Remembrance Day by that name on November 11, 1931. The Holidays Acts of 1970 and 1985 recognized it as a national holiday.
"Remembrance Day" has proven a more flexible and enduring term, as it has grown to include the remembrance of war dead from the SECOND WORLD WAR, the KOREAN WAR and peacekeeping and other international engagements. In all, some 1.5 million Canadians have served in Canada's armed forces and more than 100 000 have died in service.
(The day is still observed as "Armistice Day" in France and Belgium, while in Great Britain Remembrance Sunday is the second Sunday in November nearest to November 11. In the United States veterans are honoured on Veterans Day on November 11.)
The Red Poppy as a Symbol of Remembrance Day
The symbol of Remembrance Day is the red poppy of Flanders and northern France. The poppy as a symbol of death and renewal predates the First World War. The seeds of the flower may remain dormant in the earth for years, but they will blossom in abundance when the soil is churned. As the artillery barrages began to convulse the earth in late 1914, the fields of Flanders and northern France saw scores of red poppies appear.
The first person to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance was Moina Michael, a member of the American Overseas YMCA, who had been inspired by John MCCRAE's poem "In Flanders Fields."
McCrae wrote his famous poem in 1915, at a Canadian dressing station north of Ypres, taking his view of the poppy strewn battlefield as artistic inspiration:
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below."
Madame Anne Guerin of France, also inspired by McCrae's poem, became a vigorous advocate of the poppy as the symbol of remembrance. In 1921, she travelled to Britain and Canada and persuaded both the British Legion and the Canadian Great War Veterans Association (a predecessor of the Royal Canadian Legion) to adopt the poppy as their symbol of remembrance as well.
The first "Poppy Day" in both countries occurred on November 11, 1921. For the first year, artificial poppies were bought from Guerin's organization in France. By 1922, however, they were manufactured in Canada and distributed by veterans. The ROYAL CANADIAN LEGION, formed in 1925, has run the poppy campaign in Canada ever since. Today, millions of Canadians wear the bright red emblem as a symbol of remembrance.
Other Symbols of Remembrance Day
On November 11, special church services often include the playing of "The Last Post," a reading of the fourth verse of the "Ode of Remembrance" and two minutes of silence at 11:00 AM. Wreaths are laid at local war memorials and assemblies are held in schools.
The Books of Remembrance which lie in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower are another record of the wars. Monuments commemorating the lives of Canadians who died in conflicts overseas have occupied a prominent place in the urban landscape. Most were erected in the 1920s and 1930s and represent a commitment not to forget Canadian lives lost in the recent war.
Prominent among these monuments is the NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL in Ottawa, which is the focus each November 11 of a national ceremony.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located next to the National War Memorial and contains the remains of an unknown Canadian soldier, killed in the First World War, exhumed from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge.
Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday (a paid day of vacation for federal employees) in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It is optional in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.
See also CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM.
Author JAMES MARSH
Heather Robertson, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War (1977); Patricia Giesler, Valour Remembered: Canadians in Korea (1982); John McCrae, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems. Edited by Sir Andrew Macphail (1919); Jonathan F. W. Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War.
Links to Other Sites
THE MEMORY PROJECT
The website for The Memory Project, a major initiative dedicated to recording and preserving Canadian veterans' first-hand accounts of their military service during the Second World War and Korean War. Click on "The Memory Project Link" to access this remarkable online collection to hear interviews with individual veterans from all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. See also related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
John McCrae's War: In Flanders Fields
A review of the documentary film "John McCrae's War: In Flanders Fields." From the Manitoba Library Association.
Battle of Passchendaele
This site provides links to a detailed education guide that invites students to discover how the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele became a defining event in Canadian history. Activities focus on the analysis of vital primary sources, multimedia, and other resources. Associated with the the major Canadian feature film "Passchendaele." From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Remembrances: Canada and the Second World War
Click on the buttons on each page to access digitized archival material related to the war effort at home and on the battlefield. Also, check out the glossary of military terms. From the Royal Canadian Legion and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Canada At War
View a timeline of major Canadian military operations from the First World War to current times. From Veterans Affairs Canada.
CBC: Vimy Ridge Remembered
A multimedia CBC feature devoted to the stories of Canadian veterans who fought on the front lines at Vimy Ridge in the First World War.
Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Search this online registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 116,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who gave their lives for their country. From Veterans Affairs Canada.
A tribute to the combatants in the First World War, this film traces the conflict through the war diary and private letters of five Canadian soldiers and a nurse. From the website for the National Film Board of Canada.
See an illustrated description of the Memorial Hall at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Canadian Military History Gateway
Search this website for authoritative information about Canadian military history. Provides links to websites for Canadian museums, libraries, archives, and other heritage organizations. Also features an online glossary of military terminology, educational resources and much more. From the Department of National Defence.
Dear Sweetheart - Letters from a Soldier
This series of letters written by a Canadian soldier to his family during the Second World War is a poignant reminder of the emotional toll of war felt by people serving in the military and their families. From The Globe and Mail website.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
This Veterans Affairs Canada website is dedicated to John McCrae, a doctor and teacher, who served in both the South African War and the First World War. Includes the text of his famous poem "In Flanders Fields."
Poppy & Remembrance
This educators guide from the Royal Canadian Legion is dedicated to teaching and learning about the "tradition of remembrance." Offers an overview of wartime history, statistics, photographs, poetry, and much more.
Memorials to Canadians' Achievements & Sacrifices
An illustrated guide to memorials erected by Canada throughout the world. From Veterans Affairs Canada.
National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials
A searchable database of over 5,100 Canadian military memorials. Provides photographs, descriptions, and the wording displayed on plaques. Also a glossary of related terms. A website from the Directorate of History and Heritage.
In Flanders Fields
An information site for "In Flanders Fields," an award-winning documentary film about Canadian military action at Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele during the First World War. Click on the link at the top of the page to read an online copy of the full film script. From The War Amps.
The "Legion's Legacies" website is dedicated to the memory of Canadian war veterans. Features a growing online collection of stories, pictures, songs, videos, and educational resources.
Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day
A history of the "Remembrance Day" and "Thanksgiving Day" observances in Canada. Click on the "General Thanksgiving Days" link at the bottom of the page for more information about this holiday. From the Canadian Heritage website.
Canada's last known First World War veteran dies at 109
Watch a CTV News video about the passing of John Babcock, Canada's last known First World War veteran. Includes an interview with Tim Cook, curator at the Canadian War Museum.