Sometimes an event takes on a life of its own and transports us to new places. That’s how I felt when I attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the War Memorial in Ottawa this past Friday. Although I knew that the program would unofficially start at 10:40 a.m., I assumed that I’d have lots of time to get a front row view if I showed up an hour and a half early.
Not so. Several thousand people were already on site and the sidewalks had filled in. Getting close to the retaining gate next to the memorial was not an option. So I positioned myself close to some benches that were already filled about midway down the square. Behind the benches was a six-foot cement retaining wall with a top ledge about a foot wide. Some young people had figured out a way to get on top. If they could, so could I. After a few huffs and puffs and several helping hands, I found myself standing on the rim with a perfect (albeit distant) view of the War Memorial and the comings and goings.
At 10:40 sharp, a Pipe and Drum corps started to march into the square. By this time the sidewalks and streets had filled to capacity. But with the first boom boom boom of the drums, the crowd went still. And stayed still for a solid two hours while flights of the army, navy, air force and veterans came marching through, followed by the arrival of the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and this year’s Silver Cross Mother Patricia Braun. Everyone sang Oh Canada, followed by a bugler playing The Last Post before two minutes of silence were observed.
Throughout the ceremonies short, moving speeches and prayers were delivered interspersed by uplifting songs sung by a children’s choir. At some point, everyone joined in to sing God Save the Queen. As the wreaths were laid, canons fired a 21-gun salute. Aside from moments when the crowd sang the anthems, you could have heard that proverbial pin drop the audience was so quiet. Two hours of silence drifted by. Didn’t even hear a baby cry.
I have often seen respect. I have often heard respect. I’ve even smelled respect before. But this is the first time I actually tasted respect. Although it was silent, it was sweet and satiny. By the time the commemoration was over, my feet were numb, my knees were seized up and my nose was runny. But I was in no hurry to leave this place and the thousands of people who had quietly expressed a profound gratitude.
All photos Sandra Phinney