As my learn­ing jour­ney here in Ontario begins, I have left the won­der­ful home of my hosts Dave and Simone, and head­ed for Ottawa in time to attend the Remem­brance Day cer­e­monies in our nation’s cap­i­tal, Ottawa. This jour­ney is as much about learn­ing new skills as it is about under­stand­ing what it is to be Cana­di­an, and I feel that spend­ing time in this part of the coun­try is essen­tial to achiev­ing a more com­plete under­stand­ing of the lat­ter.

In my youth, and as a mem­ber of an Air Cadets squadron I par­tic­i­pat­ed in more than a few wreath lay­ing cer­e­monies. Back then we unques­tion­ing­ly donned woolen socks, long sweaters and trench coats to parade in frigid tem­per­a­tures at a vari­ety of ceno­taphs and war memo­ri­als to hon­our our fall­en sol­diers. At the time, it seemed a tiny sac­ri­fice in com­par­i­son to the one we were salut­ing.

Since those days, I’ve seen much more of the world, and acquired what I hope is a more com­plete under­stand­ing of how the world oper­ates. It’s also my hope that I’ve devel­oped a bit more wis­dom, and the capa­bil­i­ty to think for myself.  I’ve long strug­gled with the oft repeat­ed mes­sage “lest we for­get” and with every year that pass­es my frus­tra­tion grows.  My hope with attend­ing the cer­e­mo­ny here was to con­nect with what it means to Cana­di­ans, or Cana­di­ans in the cap­i­tal, or even just what it means. I went with an open mind.

I watched as men, women and an assort­ment of teenagers in pointy hats, and fuzzy hats, and cir­cu­lar hats, and flop­py hats all marched past me.  I lis­tened to the con­ver­sa­tion of col­lege stu­dents, home mak­ers, and retired mil­i­tary per­son­nel that sur­round­ed me in the crowd.  We all watched as dig­ni­taries showed up for their duties, but it wasn’t until the parade of vet­er­ans arrived that I real­ized how emp­ty these words we utter so repeat­ed­ly real­ly are.

I grew up in a time when the num­ber of WWI & II vet­er­ans was dwin­dling and Kore­an war vets were also in short sup­ply; Cypress was but a text­book mem­o­ry.  Every year of parade saw less vet­er­ans and small­er cer­e­monies. It was almost a mark of pride that we had none to replace them as they died of old age.  What shocked me with the Ottawa parade was the num­ber of young vet­er­ans present. As I watched them march past, the real­iza­tion that we have indeed ignored the mes­sage hit me full-force.  We here in Cana­da (aid­ed by our inter­na­tion­al part­ners no doubt) have come up with increas­ing­ly effec­tive and stu­pid ways of wast­ing human life, destroy­ing fam­i­lies and mud­dy­ing our name inter­na­tion­al­ly.

In my crit­i­cism, I nev­er want to under­mine the efforts, and the legit­i­mate sac­ri­fices that our mil­i­tary per­son­nel have all made in their var­i­ous deploy­ments, but I do ques­tion the rea­son for most deploy­ments in recent his­to­ry. I’ve always believed that mil­i­tary should pri­mar­i­ly be a defence force, and as a Cana­di­an I’ve sat back and watched our mil­i­tary be con­vert­ed to an inter­na­tion­al aggres­sive police force as a result of polit­i­cal pos­tur­ing.  I do have great hopes for our new gov­ern­ment, and a new era of peace­ful inter­na­tion­al behav­iour. Time will tell whether this will change.

With that, I shall step down from my soap box, and share some images of the day’s activ­i­ties.

First, the pletho­ra of ser­vice branch­es rep­re­sent­ed today:

The peo­ple keep­ing us safe today.   The real heroes of the day were real­ly the para­medics, who saved count­less sol­diers from the inevitable con­se­quences of stand­ing per­fect­ly still for long peri­ods of time.  Those who haven’t tried it, ought to before judg­ing. With­out prac­tice, it’s an incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult task.

Also, the snipers.  Prob­a­bly more there for the Prime Min­is­ter than for us as spec­ta­tors.


Vet­er­an ser­vice dogs were well rep­re­sent­ed in the crowd today too.

Veteran service dog

And a few shots of the tomb of the unknown sol­dier, sur­round­ed by onlook­ers lay­ing pop­pies.  The wreaths were laid at the base of an enor­mous stone and cast sculp­ture depict­ing our troops charg­ing in to bat­tle.

On the lighter side, I caught my first glimpse and took a tour of our Par­lia­ment build­ing today:

The Parliament Building in Ottawa, Canada

The Par­lia­ment Build­ing in Ottawa, Cana­da

And had my first ever beaver tail. Yes, they’re deli­cious, and no, I’m not going to share.

Well, okay, maybe if you ask nice­ly. :)

A cinnamon and sugar beaver tail. The classic, and a very Canadian experience.

A cin­na­mon and sug­ar beaver tail. The clas­sic, and a very Cana­di­an expe­ri­ence.

Over­all, it was an inter­est­ing day spent sur­round­ed by a peo­ple unit­ed.  I’ve not man­aged to get any clos­er to rec­on­cil­ing my feel­ings on the cer­e­mo­ny but I’ve added anoth­er expe­ri­ence in my quest to under­stand what this place is all about.

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