Five stones arranged in arch with Canada flag on flag pole in middle

Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post.

Local residents invited to mark Remembrance Day in-person

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday November 4, 2021

A single, bright red poppy has been an enduring symbol of remembrance, honouring the service and sacrifices of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members past and present.

And for the past century, Canadians have commemorated these sacrifices at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Every year, they gather at cenotaphs, memorials, schools and community centres to pay their respects, and for two minutes on Nov. 11, people across the nation fall silent to mark the lives of those who have fallen in service to their country and acknowledge those left behind.

These ceremonies are a beloved tradition locally, where military members and veterans make up a large segment of the population. It isn’t uncommon for thousands to pay their respects at the Petawawa cenotaph, creating a sea of poppies as far as the eye can see.

Mark Blais, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 517 Petawawa Poppy Campaign chair and first vice-president has lost loved ones, fellow soldiers and comrades.

“Afghanistan was the worst,” he said. “I was an instructor at the RCR battle school and when you see your recruits fall, it hits especially hard,” he said. “It’s a small community and everybody knows each other.”

These Nov. 11 ceremonies help ease the pain.

In 2020, services across the country were put on hold, significantly reduced, or held virtually due to the pandemic. But restrictions are now lifting, and the local Legions are hosting larger Remembrance Day ceremonies once more.

Last year, to follow the safety guidelines set out by the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 517 had to limit the number of people at the Petawawa cenotaph to less than 100. There was no parade, and wreaths were pre-laid.

In 2021, they will not be able to parade down Petawawa Boulevard, but there will be a mass gathering in the Legion’s parking lot. Most of the wreaths will be pre-laid save those that will be presented by dignitaries.

More importantly, all are now welcome, and organizers hope to see the thousand-strong crowd return. Following the service, the lounge and upper hall will be open to attendees. They will have to be double vaccinated and adhere to Covid protocols.

“It feels good,” said Blais. “Last year was very minimal but slowly things are getting back to normal.”

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 72 in Pembroke will follow a similar schedule, inviting all to gather at Memorial Cenotaph Park for the traditional ceremony.

People will also be allowed to go into the Legion for refreshments once the service is over.

To further commemorate Remembrance Day, there will be an Armistice Dinner on Nov. 9 in Petawawa. It is free for all veterans, serving members and their spouses, but attendees must order their tickets at the Legion before the event.

Following dinner, there will be a candlelight ceremony. Participants will be invited to lay red, weatherproof candles at the foot of the cenotaph where they will remain until Nov. 11, each one representing a lost loved one, a fallen comrade, or an absent friend.

“It helps to remember loved ones who have passed away and to pay tribute to comrades that have fallen,” said Blais.

The candles can be purchased at the Petawawa Legion for $10.