Today it is now a national holiday for federal and many provincial government workers, and the largest ceremonies are attended in major cities by tens of thousands. Remembrance Day plays an important role in what it means to be Canadian. For example, the ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa is nationally televised, while most media outlets – including newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and internet sources – run special features, interviews, or investigative reports on military history or remembrance-related themes.
But it was not always so.
Most know that Remembrance Day takes place every 11 November at 11 a.m. It marks the end of hostilities during the First World War and an opportunity to recall all those who have served in the nation’s defence. It was originally known as Armistice Day.
What is less known is that the holiday’s observance has been uneven, at best.
For much of the 1920s, Canadians observed the date with little public demonstration. Although it was inaugurated in 1919 throughout much of the British Empire, early years in Canada saw its observance limited to veterans and their families gathered in churches and around local memorials. Observances involved few other Canadians.
It was not until 1928 that some prominent citizens, many of them veterans, pushed for greater recognition and to separate the remembrance of wartime sacrifice from the Thanksgiving holiday. In 1931, the federal government decreed that the newly named Remembrance Day would be observed on 11 November and moved Thanksgiving Day to a different date. Remembrance Day would emphasize the memory of fallen soldiers instead of the political and military events leading to victory in the First World War.
Remembrance Day rejuvenated interest in recalling the war and military sacrifice, attracting thousands to ceremonies in cities large and small across the country. It remained a day to honour the fallen, but traditional services also witnessed occasional calls to remember the horror of war and to embrace peace. Remembrance Day ceremonies were usually held at community cenotaphs and war memorials, or sometimes at schools or in other public places. Two minutes of silence, the playing of the Last Post, the recitation of In Flanders Fields, and the wearing of poppies quickly became associated with the ceremony.
Remembrance Day has since gone through periods of intense observation and periodic decline. The 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995 marked a noticeable upsurge of public interest.
Today, thankfully, it is no longer overlooked or forgotten.