Remembrance Day Canada: Virtual Services During COVID-19 Pandemic

Online ceremonies are happening across the country.

Silent crowds of poppy-wearing Canadians will be a tradition skipped, but not forgotten this Remembrance Day. Like many national events in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has put pause on large gatherings and attending memorial services to pay tribute to veterans and fallen soldiers.

The Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) and politicians are asking Canadians to stay home, with some annual commemorations by local governments downsizing or cancelled altogether.

Watch: the House of Commons honour veterans ahead of Remembrance Day. Story continues below.

Although Remembrance Day will be physically absent, there are still many ways Canadians will be marking Nov. 11 with great emotional significance.

Remembrance Day has been around in Commonwealth countries since 1919. Veteran Affairs Canada’s website states that the day is for Canadians “to honour and remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict and peace. ”

For some, the annual event will honour veteran sacrifices, highlight policy gaps like post-war mental health and disability services, and mourn family members.

Others who believe the day glorifies war may re-frame it as an opportunity to grieve civilian deaths, support child survivors, or focus on peace efforts. Here’s how all these observances are taking place:

Many ceremonies are going virtual or smaller

Ottawa’s ceremony is still happening, but with extremely scaled down attendee numbers; CTV reports only 100 people will be allowed to gather, with most being government and necessary personnel. Canadians at home can join in by watching the service from a national broadcaster or the RCL’s own Facebook livestream.

As is custom, people are encouraged to take a moment of silent reflection at 11:00 A.M.

With most in-person official ceremonies and parades in major cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton cancelled, wreath-laying and tributes are now online.

The University of British Columbia will host a full-program ceremony with speakers, starting at 10:45 a.m. PST.

RCL advises Canadians to contact their local branch for ceremony details; regardless of whether they watch, the legion asks those who are able to spare two minutes at 11:00 A.M. in their respective time zones to take a moment of silence.

#CanadaRemembers with digital tributes, poppies

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to mark Remembrance Day with digital tributes in a statement for Veterans’ Week last Thursday, placing an emphasis on social distancing if outside.

“I encourage all Canadians to check out the online commemorations, to share their stories, photos, and videos on social media using #CanadaRemembers, and to wear a poppy – along with a mask – when you do go out,” he stated. “To those who have sacrificed so we may be at peace: we are forever thankful.”

The red poppy was an ordinary sight on battlefields during the First World War, spurring Canadian John McCrae to write “In Flanders Fields,” an enduring poem that eventually led the Royal British Legion to market the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

Besides from poppy volunteers and registered sellers, the red fuzzy flower pins can be bought from electronic touch-free boxes at participating HSBC branches across the country. Digital poppies are also available via donation, along with poppy-themed backgrounds, on the legion’s website.

Those who oppose wearing a red poppy ― due to prison-labour ties or disagreeing with the legion ― may choose to wear a white poppy instead.

Started in the U.K. by pacifists, donning white poppies started 12 years after the red poppy tradition and seeks to reinforce how terrible the violence of war is, regardless of national affiliation. The movement has seen opposition from legions over messaging conflict.

These are less available across Canada than in previous years because of pandemic shipping restrictions, but the Canadian co-founder of Peace Poppies has made them available across Vancouver.

Some will pay special attention to forgotten soldiers

In the lead-up to Remembrance Day, organizations like Historica Canada and Veteran Affairs Canada have shared facts about veterans and wartime on their social media.

Shifting to online spaces has led people to share the histories of marginalized soldiers who fought in battles, but were sidelined when they returned home.

Many Canadians did not grow up learning about the societal injustices Black, Indigenous, and people of colour faced, both in the military and after they served: Indigenous soldiers, for example, often didn’t receive the same post-war benefits as white counterparts.

Kids can learn history virtually too

For families looking for Remembrance Day activities, organizations are sharing their teaching resources for children and teens.

Blogger The Canadian Homeschooler compiled an exhaustive list of teaching resources. Feel torn about Remembrance Day’s meaning? The Kojo Institute has a comprehensive guide that takes an equity-based approach to informing young minds about the impacts of war.

“The Memory Project” will run a ceremony geared for classrooms at 10:45 A.M. EST, with veterans expected to address kids.

Also on HuffPost: