The Port Moody Legion is where the cenotaph was located throughout my childhood and youth. Year after year, November 11th was spent gathering in remembrance at this site. Even when we no longer lived nearby, my grandparents’ connections to this veteran support community preserved this tradition. My grandmother always called this day in the calendar Armistice Day, citing that on this day in 1918, warring hostilities were ended to create the space for a negotiated end to war which would come formally more than six months later.
When I made my home in Northern BC as a young teacher, the annual observance evolved in meaning for me. This day took on a different gravity, no less meaningful but charged with greater responsibility. As a young educator whose own personal connections to veterans and those who have served our country were few and modest, I understood the difficulty some of our youth faced when looking for meaning on this day. I felt it my duty to help students find relevance on November 11th. They found inspiration in the vision of a world free from the suffering and the loss of war; “Never Again” captured their young idealism.
My understanding of this important day continued to evolve, finding challenge in a year working outside Canada’s borders. I spent a year teaching and living in the UK, having exchanged with a fellow teacher of the Commonwealth. Because I had been either a student or a teacher every year since I was five years old, and I had lived entirely in BC or Alberta, it struck me as disrespectful to be taking attendance as if it were a regular Thursday; my two minutes would be observed during the morning break, while I supervised students in the hallway. My silence was personal and unnoticed by children in uniforms enjoying the momentary freedom from their classrooms. I now understood that the form of observance for this day which I had been taught – and which I had been teaching – was not universal.
My understanding of November 11th would undergo change once again when I fell in love with a woman from Newfoundland. To create a future beyond her small village and the fish plant, my wife joined the Canadian Armed Forces. She would spend several years in service before pursuing a post-secondary education. Although she never served in conflict, my wife has carried with her a deep and personal respect for those serving our country in uniform, past and present. Her perspective and influence shaped my own outlook on this day, taking it beyond professional duty and respect for my elders, and bringing it closer to my heart.
As our family grew and children arrived, this day continued to grow, too. There is much to appreciate when raising children in a small town, one element being the close sense of community. Dignitaries of local government and Indigenous Nations – as well as representatives of virtually every association, organization, service club, and community group – are part of the parade on November 11th. In a small town, it may take some time for all representatives to lay a wreath at the cenotaph. The monument is encircled by veterans, those in active service, members of local law enforcement, emergency services, and youth groups. For several years, my own children stood in uniform to honour those who gave. Along with respect, honour, and remembrance, I’ve always felt thankful on this day. However, the sense of gratitude spreads far more deeply when taking in the sight of children – my own children – living with the blessings secured by the sacrifice of others.
The sacrifice my children honour on this day is much evolved from my own youth, more truthful and inclusive. Since they were very young, my children have listened to the names of Secwepemc and Ktunaxa men and women recited aloud in honour of the sacrifice they made for future generations. I have faith for our children’s understanding of this day, and that they will continue to seek truths and reconcile these with honour and remembrance in a modern ceremony.
I have faith that our future children will lay wreaths with reverence for the 500 Indigenous lives lost in the conflicts of the 20th century, and that they will honour and remember the 12,000 Indigenous men and women who served in these wars. Our children will also know that Indigenous families were not authorized to lay wreaths in Ottawa until the 20th century was nearing its end. On Indigenous Veterans’ Day, our children will acknowledge that Indigenous people made valuable contributions and were decorated for courage and bravery, and that 27,000 Indigenous people continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. And in a silence that is national, if not universal, our children will remember all people who served and sacrificed, “Lest We Forget.”