For Jack Fortnum, the most important thing about this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies was not the flags, the music, or even the memories.
It was the young people.
The 81-year-old former navy petty officer in the Second World War was one of a small number of veterans at the Toronto Zoo for the service last Sunday. But though his own age is getting there, it was the age of so many people in attendance that caught his eye.
“I think [the youth] are getting to learn a bit more about what went on because the schools are teaching more than what they used to,” Fortnum said. “I think they’re starting to [appreciate a bit more].”
Several hundred poppy-wearing Torontonians packed the zoo’s Waterside Theatre to pay tribute to more than 100,000 lives lost in military combat, both past and present.
War veterans participated in a march down the amphitheatre, led by bagpiper Dave McGonigal, to honour Canadian comrades who didn’t make it back from the front lines.
“It was a beautiful day for a parade, as short as it was,” said Frank Freeman, who has been conducting parades for the past 20 years as the sergeant-at-arms for Legion Branch 258.
“We have 10 parades a year and I have to officiate all of them,” he said. “We also have tribute services for those who have deceased and we have a legion service for them, at various funeral homes, or at the legion itself.
“We like to see the younger ones,” added Freeman. “[There are] enough of us old fogies around,” he said, laughing.
Honouring the veterans
Jim Gyselinck, president and CEO of the legion’s Highland Creek branch, makes it his mission to ensure veterans are honored and valued in the community.
“The cornerstone in the legion is to take care of the veterans,” Gyselinck said. “They were the founding members and we are here to support them as members.
“Right now, we are almost 1,400,” said Gyselinck of the legion’s current member tally.
“It’s a busy legion and we do a lot of things on the go all the time,” he said, adding that two days prior, the legion had organized a “Support the Troops” dance, with half of all the proceeds going to assist the Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
According to Gyselinck, the legion also continues to hold an annual “Old Sweats Dinner” in April, for First and Second World War veterans.
“We had [one of] the last remaining Canadian World War I vets, Dwight Wilson, who was here last year,” Gyselinck said.
“Unfortunately, a couple months later, he passed away at the age of 106. He was here for his last service. He came every year.”
A milestone year
This year’s memorial service was also a milestone as it marked the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, where more than 10,000 Canadians lost their lives to become wartime heroes.
Sir Oliver Mowat C.I.’s band played the Canadian national anthem, and later, God Save the Queen.
A sole trumpet played Last Post as the Canadian flag was lowered, while parliamentarians, city officials, and representatives of various organizations placed wreaths.
The ceremony wound down with Jack Fortnum’s reading of In Flanders Fields and a closing prayer.