It is more important than ever for Canadians of all ages to pause during Remembrance Day and reflect and respect the men and women who have served and continue to serve Canada during war, conflict and peace. Older generations likely remember all too well their wartime experiences, or at least stories about the uncertainty and fear that gripped communities. In today’s media-driven world, news of fallen soldiers, including the shootings that recently took place on Canadian soil, travels so quickly. War, deployment, and casualties are broadcast far more quickly than ever before, yet most young Canadians have no comprehension of the toll that war can take on countries and entire continents. I hope they never will. Yet all of the memories and stories, remembrances, must trickle down.
My interests in observing Remembrance Day were shaped by my small-town school, which I attended for thirteen years straight. Every year the school, community and Legion would come together to put on a beautiful Remembrance Day ceremony. Before the service, teachers would walk from classroom to classroom ensuring that all kids had (and were wearing) a poppy, buying new ones for students if necessary. Whether you were a youngster in Kindergarten or a teenager graduating high school, we all played some role. In the choir, we’d belt out Blowin’ in the Wind, or John Lennon’s Imagine, or the White Cliffs of Dover, for the crowd’s enjoyment. Our renditions may not have been especially tuneful, but they were earnest. Our teachers fostered our interest with poster and poetry contests, and we could enter a Remembrance Day essay as well. If you were lucky enough to win, you received an envelope with your prize winnings of $5 or $10, money which was no doubt donated. We would solemnly listen to the Last Post, wait to see which grade 12 student would read In Flanders Field and reverently watch the local war vets march into the school gym. Some of my classmates had grandparents who were veterans and we would pay especially close attention to them as they walked by. During the moment of silence, we were so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Since becoming a Grown Up, I haven’t actively participated in Remembrance Day activities the way I did when I was a student. With my children, however, I have an opportunity to get involved again. This year I doled out poppies to my kids and attempted to explain their significance in an age-appropriate manner. The smaller fry have inadvertently referred to their poppies as ‘copies,’ ‘peppers,’ and ‘pokies’ and I’ve picked poppies off of floor mats, out of the inside of boots, off the ground, and out of children’s hands, when they were ironically being wielded as tiny swords. I can’t keep three poppies on three children yet I recall my teachers ensuring a hundred students, give or take, were properly wearing poppies.
Our children are perhaps too young to fully understand the meaning of Remembrance Day and war and loss, yet they are old enough to learn that we live in the greatest country in the world. The daily freedoms and rights that we as Canadians all enjoy, young and old, are not experienced by people in other countries.
I recently learned that not every province in Canada observes Remembrance Day, including some fairly populous provinces, which I found surprising. It’s a good reminder, however, that it is our personal duty to honour Remembrance Day, no matter what we are doing. If you’re sorting cows in a corral, if you’re wiping runny noses, if you are relaxing on a day off work, or simply going about your regular activities, remember. Remember how privileged we are to live in Canada. Remember the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Remember the soldiers, veterans and families who paved the way for our freedom at their own expense. Remember to remember.