Remembrance Day to be celebrated differently this year

Sometimes, even traditions go through some changes

Rotal Canadian Legion Branch 258
Remembrance Day festivities will be very different this year, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Jayson Dimaano/Toronto Observer

Usually when you see people wearing the red poppy on jackets, shirts and sweaters, Remembrance Day is coming up. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations for this Nov. 11 will be different from previous years.

In the past, the Royal Canadian Legion has worked with the City of Toronto to run services throughout different parts of the city, says Gerry Morgan, district commander for Branch 258 in Scarborough.

“There is a service held and open to the community, which consists of a minute of silence to start, prayers (clergies and offerings) and the traditional playing of the ‘Rouse’, ‘O Canada’ and etcetera,” Morgan says.

Parades also take place with ‘The Colour Party,’ which includes the flag bearers. There is also the laying of the wreaths and at the end of the ceremony, people retire their poppies in front of the wreath.

Remembrance Day is a very important day to many veterans, staff members in veteran’s homes and their family members.

Katherine Baldwin is the Manager of Recreation Therapy & Creative Arts Therapies at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre. Her team leads the committee planning Remembrance Day. In previous years, she says that events, like Operation Raise A Flag (where volunteers plant flags outside the Veterans Centre) require lots of volunteers to make it happen.

“On November 10, they always have a huge campaign to plant flags to fill the campus here at the hospital. It takes a lot of volunteers for that to happen,” says Baldwin.

She adds that the live Remembrance Day service is held in the Warrior’s Hall (the entertainment hall for the veterans), where a number of events take place, including Scotty Newlands singing for them (Official home game singer for the Toronto Rock of the NLL).

“A number of dignitaries are also involved during that service, the CEO of the hospital does the welcoming remarks. We have a guest speaker to make some keynote speeches for the day. Veterans get involved in some readings. We have a band playing, the march of the colours and the piper…it’s quite a big production.”

What about this Remembrance Day?

However, this year is different. To protect people from getting exposed to the virus, protocols and measure are in place, as well as an alternate way to celebrate Remembrance Day this year.

“The parade will not be happening this year,” Morgan says. “The laying of wreaths will only be done by head dignitaries (MPs, MPPs, councillors or the mayor), as well as the highest-ranking Legion member.”

If people do want to lay a wreath this year, however, they can do so ahead of time in front of the memorials. All City of Toronto services will be on a Remembrance Day website while the ceremony at Old City Hall will be broadcast live.

For poppy sales, donations can be made at local Legions, the Poppy Campaign, Online, and through mail to the National Poppy Trust Fund. However, boxes are still going to be distributed throughout different establishments and shops, Morgan says.

“There’s virtual poppies that you can get through the Legion,” Morgan says. “They go to your phone. And donations can still be made at branches.”

“If someone does choose to sell poppies, we asked them to follow specific guidelines (like social distancing) to ensure our members are safe—although we are not encouraging our members to do so,” Morgan says.. Knowing the dedication of some of the members, he wouldn’t be surprised to see some members participate.

This affects other celebrations and festivities happening at other veteran’s homes in the city.

Katherine Baldwin says this year, there won’t be an indoor service, as there will be at least 1000 people in attendance. But since we are learning new information about the virus, Baldwin is not sure what their going to be doing for this year’s celebration, as “we are having to pivot, change and figure out ways of doing things,” Baldwin says.

“What I can tell you is we are offering a service for the veterans. We will be keeping them up in their units and finding a way to bringing the service to them. We have arranged for a piper to come and we will get him to play at strategic locations outside of the building, where veterans can look from their rooms, open their windows to see and hear the piper play.”

Understanding the changes

This year’s festivities need to be different, for the safety of the members of the Legion and the public. But Morgan knows this is for the greater good.

“Is it a disappointment? Absolutely. Not just for Remembrance (Day) but on all avenues of our lives,” he says. “We’ve been affected in some way or another by the pandemic. It is a sad moment, but it is just one more thing we have to understand, accept and adhere to while we’re going through this,” said Morgan.

With everyone adapting to the changes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baldwin says according to the staff at the Veteran’s Centre, the veterans are very resilient.

“This generation is able to rise above and get on with things. COVID has been no different. In some ways, they managed better than the rest of the world has. In some ways, the family members (of the veterans) and staff have struggled more than they have.”

Baldwin adds there are veterans who are feeling more of the impact as there is lots of adjusting to, as families are visiting less. But, veterans are finding other ways to connect with family using technology, such as ZOOM. Other veterans have their own iPads to connect and doing phone calls to talk to their loved ones.

We’ve all had to make changes, but I think they managed it very well, both the staff and the veterans to find a new normal.

Katherine Baldwin, on veterans and staff adujsting to the changes COVID-19 brings

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Posted: Oct 15 2020 11:26 am
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