What are we remembering on Remembrance Day?

Commemorative poppies laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a photograph of a soldier among the poppies.

Poppies  by Benoit Aubry.  CC BY

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November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada. It is also called Armistice Day.

What are we remembering?

Remembrance Day commemorates the service of the armed forces – soldiers, airmen and sailors – who fought and died in armed conflicts during the first World War. November 11, 1918 at 11 am (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) marks the date and time when armies stopped fighting in WWI.

In the US it is called Veteran’s Day, also celebrated on November 11.

Remembrance Day is also a chance to honour people who continue to serve in war, military conflict, and international peacekeeping missions. We acknowledge the important role of the people who risk life and limb to uphold world peace.

Is it a holiday?

Remembrance Day is a federal statutory holiday. Although it is not a statutory holiday in Manitoba, the province outlines restrictions for operating business and special requirements for paying employees who work on November 11.

Schools, civic offices, and many businesses are closed. So are public libraries, most public leisure and recreation centres, as well as banks and credit unions. However, most grocery stores, shopping malls, museums and galleries are open starting at 1 p.m. To be sure of schedules, check online before you go.

How do Canadians celebrate it?

All government buildings fly the Canadian flag on this special day. At exactly 11 a.m., most people observe a two minute silence. Some people gather in memorial parks, community halls, workplaces, schools, homes and parks to observe this silence to honour fallen soldiers.

There is a National Remembrance Day Ceremony held every year at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The ceremony gathers veterans from all wars and peace support operations, dignitaries, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, members of the Diplomatic Corps and youth representatives. Everyone can take part in the ceremony by attending or tuning in to the television broadcast. The ceremony in Ottawa usually has a grand Veterans’ Parade and a fly-past.

Prior to Remembrance Day (usually the last Friday of October), you will notice that many people start wearing a red flower on their clothes. This is the poppy flower. It symbolizes respect and support for the Canadian troops. You can get these poppy pins from members of the Royal Canadian Legion (usually in public places or in some commercial establishments) who hand them out for free or for a small donation. All donations go to the Legion’s Poppy Fund which supports serving and retired veterans and their families.

Why poppies?

After WWI, the poppy flower was adopted as a symbol of remembrance. This was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor. In the poem, he paints a poignant picture of bright red poppies growing amid reminders of death and loss during the war. Poppies have since become a symbol of respect for those who served and died for their country in Canada, Great Britain, the nations of Commonwealth, and the United States.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae (recited by Leonard Cohen)
from Legion Magazine

Article updated October 17, 2023.
Sources: Statutory Holidays Canada; The Canadian War Museum; The Royal Canadian Legion; and The Story of the Poppy (The Royal British Legion).Retrieved October 24, 2016.

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