November 11, 2013 - 10:31 AM
OTTAWA - In wet snow under grey skies, the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies played out Monday with all their sombre dignity.
Thousands crowded around the towering granite arch of the National War Memorial to watch the ritual.
It opened with O Canada and then went on through the time-honoured traditions. The high, liquid notes of the Last Post rang over the chilly downtown, introducing the minute of silence. The quiet was broken only by the slow tolling of the Peace Tower bells marking the hour, then a piper's skirled lament.
A 21-gun artillery salute boomed out, echoing off the buildings all around and stirring flights of pigeons into the air. Two CF-18 fighter jets and a pair of training aircraft roared overhead in a flypast.
There were prayers and the recitation of poet Robert Laurence Binyon's haunting lines:
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston, wearing a naval uniform, presided over the ceremonies, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
They placed wreaths at the foot of the memorial, as did Niki Psiharis, the Silver Cross mother.
Her youngest son, Sgt. Chris Karigiannis, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2007.
Senior military officers, politicians and members of the diplomatic corps, veterans groups and others also laid wreaths as a children's choir sang. Afterwards, hundreds of people pressed forward to place their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, forming a crimson shroud on the grey granite.
They then gathered along the roadside to applaud as soldiers and veterans marched past.
The Ottawa ceremony came as Canadians from coast to coast paused to reflect on the sacrifices of wars long past and modern-day conflicts coming to end.
It's a Remembrance Day for which Canada still has large numbers of troops deployed in harm's way.
Canadian soldiers on a training mission in Afghanistan held their own quiet service in Kabul.
Across Canada, meanwhile, local ceremonies played out as each time zone hit 11 a.m.
After taking part in the national ceremony, Harper was scheduled to pay a visit later in the day to Crysler's Farm in nearby Morrisburg, Ont., for a journey back in time.
The region was the scene of a pivotal battle in the War of 1812, where an American campaign through the St. Lawrence River valley was stopped cold by British, Canadian and aboriginal forces.
Fought on Nov. 11, 1813, the engagement is sometimes referred to as the battle that saved Canada, and involved as many as 12,000 troops.
The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial is always well attended, but carried extra significance this year because Canadian soldiers have begun arriving home from Afghanistan.
A mission in Kabul to train Afghan soldiers, following five years of combat in Kandahar, is drawing to a close in March, and all boots are expected to be out of the war-ravaged country by summer.
In its recent throne speech, the Harper government promised to rededicate the national memorial — which sits within sight of Parliament Hill — to the memory of all men and women who fought for the country in every conflict.
There has been a simmering debate about whether to add the dates of the war in Afghanistan to the massive war memorial, a notion resisted in some quarters of the federal government, including Veterans Affairs Canada.
During the First World War, roughly 68,000 Canadians were killed in four years of fighting. The Second World War claimed a further 47,000 Canadian lives between 1939 and 1945. The United Nations-led Korean war in the 1950s saw 516 killed.
The dates of all three wars are on the memorial.
An additional 1,800 Canadians died either on UN peacekeeping missions, in Cold War training exercises — or in Afghanistan, which claimed 158 soldiers.
In a statement, Harper paid tribute to generations who served the country.
"On this special day, let us pay our heartfelt tribute to all members of the Canadian Armed Forces – both past and present – whose selflessness, courage and sacrifices have given us the freedom we enjoy, the democracy by which we govern ourselves and the justice under which we live."
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair also paid tribute, urging Canadians to "take the time to remember and to give thanks to all those who have lost their lives in service to this great country."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau echoed the sentiment in his own statement: "In solemn remembrance and eternal gratitude, we come together to honour those veterans who sacrificed in defence of our country, and the values we share."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2013