POLITICS

Veterans, O'Toole gather in Ottawa to commemorate 70th anniversary of VE Day

05/08/2015 11:45 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Dozens of Dutch students joined Canadian Second World War veterans Friday in Ottawa in solemn reflection on the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

As several rows of veterans sat in the shadow of the National War Memorial and military personnel stood at attention nearby, a lone violinist and an 80-member youth orchestra from the Netherlands played the theme song from the film "Schindler's List."

One of the students, Isabel Messerschmidt, spoke only a few words of remembrance at the gathering.

But it was her meeting Thursday with a veteran that gave her a better understanding of what the Canadians went through to liberate her country.

"He was in the air force," Messerschmidt said as she described the veteran who gave her a sense of what the Canadians endured in liberating her country.

"He went 60 times to Holland, and it was a lot, but he survived.... It was very emotional to see that he's still alive and tries to do his best. It was nice to get him out and play for him."

The Ottawa parade, which saw some veterans shuttled to the memorial in Second World War-vintage military jeeps, was one of several events being held across Canada and throughout parts of Europe in commemoration of VE Day.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement to mark the anniversary, calling it a day to pause and honour the more than one million Canadians who served to end tyranny in Europe — of which an estimated 80,000 remain alive.

"They did so to protect the values of freedom and democracy that Canadians hold so dear, and because it was the right thing to do," said Harper, who earlier in the week attended ceremonies marking the liberation of the Netherlands.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe 70 years ago a milestone for Canada.

"We take this opportunity to pay tribute to our Canadian veterans who served so bravely, and who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could continue to live in peace and freedom," said Trudeau.

At the Ottawa ceremony, Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole urged all Canadians to pause and remember the sacrifices made by Canadians and Newfoundlanders in liberating the Netherlands.

More than 45,000 Canadians died during the war between 1939 and 1945. Another 55,000 were wounded.

Parliamentary Secretary Rick Dykstra was in Germany on Friday, on behalf of the federal government, to help close a week of commemorative events surrounding the VE Day anniversary, where he and other delegates took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

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