Sadly, the war to end all wars, a.k.a. the First World War, did not accomplish that objective. But one of its legacies has been to cultivate greater respect for the young men—and in the modern era, young women—who put their lives on the line in the service of their country and for the freedom of people around the world.
Remembrance Day, initially known as Armistice Day, was observed for the first time in the British Commonwealth in 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The symbol of Remembrance Day is the red poppy, which was a flower that sprouted on battlefields across France and Belgium. Lt.-Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician, ensured this would be remembered through the ages through his poem “In Flanders Fields”.
He wrote: “We are the Dead. Short days ago/We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/Loved and were loved, and now we lie/In Flandiers fields.”
Close to 61,000 Canadians were killed in the First World War and another 44,090 died in the Second World War. The Korean War took another 516 Canadian lives, including 312 who perished in combat. More recently, 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan along with a diplomat, four aid workers, a government contractor, and a journalist.
Through war, Canada forged its national identity but also was riven by great divisions, particularly between Quebec and the rest of the country. One of the more thoughtful books on this topic in recent years was What We Talk About When We Talk About War, by Toronto writer Noah Richler. In it, he explored the concept of “epic thinking”, in which politicians, military officials, academics, and media commentators indulge in warlike rhetoric to stigmatize those beyond our borders while celebrating larger-than-life heroes at home.
This simplistic dichotomy of good and evil, in which outsiders are seen as irredeemable, has been a hallmark of both justifiable and unjustifiable wars. According to Richler, it took hold in Canada in the period leading up to Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan in ways that resembled previous times in our history.
On this Monday (November 11), there will be Remembrance Day ceremonies across Metro Vancouver to honour the Canadian military and all those Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice in bygone wars. One of the biggest events will take place at Victory Square on the western edge of the Downtown Eastside. The program starts at 10 a.m. with a parade featuring veterans, military marching units, and bands that will move west along Hastings Street before turning right on Richards, east on Cordova, then south on Cambie.
Also in Vancouver, there is a Remembrance Day event in Seaforth Peace Park (1620 Chestnut Street, 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.) for overlooked victims of conflict that is cohosted by Vancouver Peace Poppies, the B.C. Humanist Association, and the Multifaith Action Society. Remembrance Day events are also taking place at the following locations across the Lower Mainland.
UBC War Memorial Gym
6081 University Boulevard
North Vancouver: Victoria Park Cenotaph
100 block of East Keith Road east of Lonsdale Avenue
West Vancouver: Memorial Park
Marine Drive between 19th and 20th streets
New Westminster: City Hall
511 Royal Avenue
Richmond: City Hall
6911 No. 3 Road
North Burnaby: Confederation Park
Willingdon Avenue and Penzance Drive
South Burnaby: South Burnaby Cenotaph
Imperial Street and Nelson Avenue
Port Moody: Port Moody Arts Centre
2425 St. Johns Street
Coquitlam: Como Lake Middle School
1121 King Albert Avenue
Port Coquitlam: Port Coquitlam Community Centre
2150 Wilson Avenue
North Delta: North Delta Social Heart Plaza
11415 84 Avenue
South Delta: Memorial Park
47 Avenue and Garry Street
Surrey: Veterans’ Square
17671 Highway 10
Langley: Douglas Park
20550 Douglas Crescent
Maple Ridge: Memorial Peace Park
22407 Dewdney Trunk Road