History of Remembrance Day
The Eleventh Hour
World War I has been ranked by many as one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Millions lost their lives in the first global modern war. On November 11, 1918, a ceasefire was observed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. During that historic moment, millions around the world observed moments of silence while they reflected upon the war's terrible cost - the loss of life and suffering. It was hoped that "The Great War", as it was called, would truly be the war that would end all wars. Despite the many deadly military conflicts that have followed, the hope for lasting peace has not faded.
A History of Remembrance Day
November 11, 1918, marked the end of the Great War (1914-1918). This day was originally called Armistace Day. The earliest services were simply held in churches as a memorial to the soldiers who were buried in foreign lands. So soul destroying was the war that many just quietly paused for moment's reflection without crowds or fanfare. It was a private day of mourning. In 1921, the Government of Canada passed the Amistace Day Act which fixed Thanksgiving Day, then celebrated the second monday of November, as a day for remembrance for fallen soldiers. In 1931, the act was amended to make November 11 the official Memorial Day, and the title Remembrance Day was officially adopted. Thanksgiving was moved to the second Monday of October.
In the late 1920s, the British Empire Service League, the forerunner of the Royal Canadian Legion, began to grow in numbers. The veterans began to build cenotaphs or memorials to their fallen comrades. Cenotaph means empty tomb. Since it was government policy that fallen soldiers be buried where they died, there were no graves to memorialize the deceased. To make them more than just names from the past, many communities began to honour the fallen with a community cenotaph. It was a physical place where a memorial service could be held and the names of the fallen be preserved in public for all to see and honour. But the idea of public cenotaphs grew slowly.
The National War Memorial in Ottawa was not opened until 1939.
World War II gave a further boost to the concept of cenotaphs and Remembrance Day. Thousands of returning veterans swelled the ranks of the Royal Canadian Legion, and those not returning swelled the names carved on the various cenotaphs and memorials. Legion branches multiplied after 1945. Cenotaphs continued to spread all over Canada, and most communities erected one, whether they had a local Legion branch or not.
Remembrance Day has two main purposes. It honours all those Canadians who had served in the armed forces of Canada since our formation in 1867. An estimated 1,500,000 Canadians have served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the following conflicts: Boer War (1899-1902), World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), Korean War (1950-1953), numerous United Nations Peacekeeping Missions and finally the Afghanistan War (2001-2014). In these official conflicts, over 118,000 Canadian soldiers perished. While the day honours all veterans, it now especially honours those who died in the service of Canada. A bill is before Parliament to designate November 11 an official Canadian holiday.
The red poppy has become the symbol of Remembrance Day. Red poppies are a wild flower in northern France, much as we have goldenrod in Canada. The poppy symbol was further enhanced by Canadian Dr. John McCrae, who penned that most famous of war poems: In Flanders Fields. McCrae's words and symbolism are used around the world on Remembrance Day, and especially in the British Commonwealth nations. In the USA, November 11 is called Armistace Day.
All the symbolism now attached to Remembrance Day, including the music, the two minutes of silence, and the laying of wreaths has grown up over the years since 1918, as the memory of past conflicts fades, and we are in danger of forgetting our history.
The Kinmount, Ontario, cenotaph on November 11, 2014.
Photo by J. Gray
The Kinmount Cenotaph
The Royal Canadian Legion in Kinmount was chartered on November 15, 1946. It was named after John McGrath, one of the first local lads to enlist and the first to be killed in action. The old house on the present site was purchased for $600 and remodelled by the members. By 1954, the Kinmount branch had outgrown its first building and plans were laid for a new and larger structure. By 1957, the present building was completed. Over the years, the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 441 has served the Kinmount area with unflagging devotion. It is a true community service club.
The Kinmount Legion also maintains the cenotaph on the main street. The site was originally the home of Sam Henry. When the house burnt in 1922, the site was turned over to the town and the cenotaph was erected as a memorial to those who fell in the First World War. Five names were added after the last war. It is a reminder of Kinmount's proud service record in two World Wars.
The article, "History of Remembrance Day", was published in the Kinmount Gazette, December, 2014 edition. The image at the top of the page did not accompany the original, published article.
The two paragraphs describing the Kinmount cenotaph was written by Guy Scott, and is part of his book, "History of Kinmount. A Community on the Fringe".