Canadians Are at Their Finest on Remembrance Day

During the recent election campaign, we heard leaders and candidates from every party give speech after speech about what made Canada and the people who call it home great. The steamy July and August days paled in comparison to the hot air that came from every campaign stop. But despite all the hyperbole and rhetoric and pandering, none of the leaders actually hit on what makes Canada great or on the time of year when Canada’s true strength can be seen.

Because during the tributes to its fallen soldiers and the somber moment of silence observed on Remembrance Day, you can see Canadians at their absolute finest.

Tens of thousands of people, men and women, young and old spread across different generations, students shepherded by their teachers and members of every creed and faith clog the streets in the chilly November air with little complaint. Polite applause is offered for the politicians and visiting dignitaries, but thunderous applause is reserved for the veterans as they parade past in quiet dignity. Voices join in singular praise and gratitude for the warriors who fought and fell and all eyes look to the heavens as jets race across the golden autumn sky in salute before thousands of voices proudly sing Canada’s anthem. And if you look close enough, you can see an entire nation’s heart beating as it stops to say thank-you to so many who paid so much so that we may live in one of the greatest nations on the planet. As you watch thousands of heads bowed in mournful reflection, you may begin to understand the secret beneath the precious marriage between November 11th and the Great White North, whose strength and freedom were purchased by those honoured on this sacred day.

Because its Remembrance Day that makes Canada great. On that one morning, during that one fleeting moment of silence, all our pettiness and trivial bickering is forgotten. On that day, at that exact moment, it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is or what deity you pray to, it doesn’t matter what language you speak or who you voted for or what hockey team you cheer for. On Remembrance Day, all the foolish barriers we erect between each other fade away and we are only Canadians. Proud, thankful Canadians.

And for that brief moment in time, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we are at our very best.

Shayne Kempton




Riding the escalator at the mall the other day I overheard the couple behind me bashing Canadian Tire for putting their Christmas decorations up as soon as Halloween ended, an insult, they felt, to the integrity of Remembrance Day as well as the veterans it honours. In the span of a single floor the conversation went from “It’s a shame,” to “it’s a portent of the inevitable collapse of civilization!” It’s a common refrain at this time of year, and in fact one that can be heard as early as August as some retailers (i.e. Costco) start displaying Christmas themed wares as early as August (and man, the notoriously cranky and fun hating residents of the Glebe have nothing on the Christmas-cards-on-sale-in August haters in the complaining department). While I’m the first one in line to defend the significance of Remembrance Day and pay my respects, I have two pieces of advice for the multitude of people who love to pile on stores for putting out their festive Yule decorations a few days before November 11th; deal with it and stop being hypocrites.

Full disclosure, Christmas is, without a doubt, my favourite time of year even though I invest little value in the holiday’s conventional religious meaning (don’t worry, I’ll have a future column on my love for the holiday as well as defending myself from understandable accusations of hypocrisy) and once upon a time I used to be a very vocal member of the keep-your-pants-on-crowd regarding what day businesses circled on their calendars regarding their Christmas decorations. But it slowly dawned on me that every criticism in my arsenal was, simply put, wrong.

Now don’t mistake my argument supporting anyone’s right to get all Christmas’ed up as an argument against the vital importance of Remembrance Day (especially considering this year’s memorial service here in the Nation’s Capital given the recent murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirello as he stood Honour Guard at the National War Memorial). My attendance record for paying tribute to veterans at the annual memorial services isn’t spotless but I made sure that I was there this year in shirt and tie, laying the poppy I wore for eleven days at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which I do every year, whether I attend the actual services or not) and a few days later I returned to lay flowers on the site where Cpl. Cirello was murdered. I’m first in line to vote to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday for everyone except public schools, who could use it as an opportunity to educate students on the significance of the day and Canada’s historical contributions to such violently pivotal moments in human history. I believe the CBC should air documentaries on both World Wars as well as Korea and Canada’s extensive peacekeeping efforts for the majority of the day (partnering up with schools for that aforementioned educational opportunity). OC Transpo offers veterans free service every November 11th but I firmly believe they should extend that courtesy all 365 days of the year. I’m not bragging but rather illustrating the genuine reverence I have for Remembrance Day and that I do far, far more then the majority of complainers.

And I will argue any day of the week and twice on Sundays that Remembrance Day is more important than any religious holiday. Simply put, without the sacrifices of those who fought and fell defending freedom and liberty against genuine tyranny (as well as one of the most evil forces in the history of Mankind in Nazi Germany), not to mention those who have performed beyond admirably as Peacekeepers over the past half century, many of us might not have the freedom to celebrate the religion of our choice (or no religion at all). For that reason I hold Remembrance Day in higher esteem then conventional religious holidays, but when I found myself asking how putting up Christmas decorations or playing Christmas carols insulted or disrespected Remembrance Day or Canadian veterans, I came up empty. How exactly does putting up a Christmas tree insult a veteran? How does playing Deck the Halls or Jingle Bells take away from the solemn importance of the day? It isn’t as though playing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer backwards reveals insults aimed at Canada’s veterans. And the fact that one of the spiritual motives behind Christmas is to embrace and celebrate Peace on Earth, well suffice to say that seems like a pretty relevant message to keep in mind while paying necessary respect to those who fought and fell during times of unimaginable war and atrocity. We observe Remembrance Day on November 11th because that’s the day the armistice that ended the First World War was signed. Keeping that in mind, a WWI story I will never forget is that one Christmas Day, German and Allied soldiers stopped shooting at one another, climbed out of their trenches and observed Christmas in peace and brotherhood, playing soccer, sharing cigarettes and drink, laughter and song. So given that, what’s wrong if a store wants to put up some poinsettias on November 1st? And if you find the idea that a store playing Carol of the Bells a week before Remembrance Day is offensive, if a simple carol threatens the conviction you have for Remembrance Day and its meaning and message, then maybe its your conviction that’s weak, not the significance of the Day.

And that brings me to my second point; most complainers are hypocrites. Businesses don’t do anything without scrutinizing the bottom line and every decision is based on how much profit it will yield. If putting out Christmas decorations didn’t result in an extra dollar or two every year, they wouldn’t do it. And the only way they get those precious dollars is if Jane and John Q consumer are enticed to give them up. And if so many Canadians found it truly offensive, where are the boycotts and PR campaigns? Last year in the United States, many large retailers opened on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on the rabid orgy of consumerism known as Black Friday. There was plenty of outrage and despite the annual tidal wave of shoppers, continued consumer pressure has convinced a handful of those outlets to close for America’s turkey day this year. Where is that kind of pressure here over perceived Remembrance Day insults? The truth is that complaining is easier then actual action and it really isn’t that big a deal to most Canadians despite the volumes of complaints. And remember as well, that when the sacred and solemn 11th rolls around, the vast majority of complainers will neither attend any Remembrance Day ceremonies nor will most observe the customary moment of silence. But what many of them do here in Ottawa, where plenty of government workers have the day off, is get a jump on their Christmas shopping in stores that have been proudly displaying Christmas decorations for a few weeks. I guess while having Christmas decorations up before Remembrance Day is disrespectful, Christmas shopping on it isn’t.

Shayne Kempton


Earlier this week I caught a snippet from a CBC panel discussing Canada’s strengths as a global power and what our leaders strategy for the future should be. All the usual conversational suspects made an appearance; exporting our health care expertise, innovation, pioneering alternative energy, smart resource management etc. But I think they all missed the mark and the true source of Canada’s strength could be found two weeks ago, right here in the nation’s capital.

Remembrance Day.

I’ve long suspected that the greatest thing about Remembrance Day, a day I will always argue is the most significant day of the year, is the quiet yet magnificent truth it reveals about both Canadians and the nation they call home. The truth had always eluded words, hiding somewhere deep in my marrow and my blood, an understanding keenly felt but never articulated. Until this year.

Perhaps it was because the War Cenotaph was turning 75 years strong or perhaps it was because this year marks a full century since the beginning of the Great War. It may have been because a few short weeks ago the War Memorial was tragically baptized by the blood of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reminding an entire nation of the importance vigilance and liberty plays in our freedom. Perhaps it was a little of all of them or none of them at all, but as the somber ceremonies unfolded the realization dawned on me that on Remembrance Day, both Canada and those privileged to call her home are at our very best.

I was just one among the tens of thousands attending the annual ceremonies at Ottawa’s War Memorial to pay my respects to Canadian veterans, just one among thousands thanking them for the price they paid so that we may enjoy living in one of the greatest nations on the planet. But as I stood there, listening to the songs and the prayers and the poems, as I applauded the parades and bowed my head in mourning reflection, I finally understood the truth about the precious marriage between November 11th and the Great White North, whose strength and freedom were purchased by those who are honoured on that sacred day. I finally understood that Remembrance Day is what makes Canada great. From the very old to the very young, thousands of people spread across a handful of generations came. People of all colours and ethnicities and believers from all faiths as well as those who believed in none at all came. They clogged the streets and filled the square, but still they came with little or no complaint. They all raised their voices in singular praise and thanks for the warriors who had fought and fallen for them. All eyes looked to the heavens as jets raced across the golden autumn sky in salute and all voices joined together to proudly sing Canada’s anthem. Polite applause was offered for the politicians and the visiting dignitaries but thousands upon thousands of hands summoned a chorus of thunder for Silver Cross mother Gisele Michaud (whose son was slain in Afghanistan) and the legions of veterans who paraded by with dignified pride. There were no differences, no pettiness or bigotry, no one cared what language you or your ancestors spoke or who you voted for in the last election or who your favourite hockey team was. On Remembrance Day, for a handful of fleeting moments, we are the people we can be; we are the country we always have the potential to be. Because when we celebrate and honour our veterans, both Canada and Canadians are at our very and absolute best.

Shayne Kempton