Editorial Comment

Fighting For Remembrance Day

Father Raymond J. de Souza is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario and is the chaplain of Queen’s University. He also is a writer with many articles to his credit with the National Post. It is in this latter role I find myself at odds with the gentleman. In a recent piece for the Post, Father de Souza explained his opposition to, not only making November 11th a national holiday, but repealing it as a holiday for those provinces who observe it.

Frankly, for as long as I can recall, I have attended our local Remembrance Day service without fail. I always felt it an embarrassment that this day for celebrating soldiers; both the fallen and the current crop of heroes, and their role in our current peace and security, was not shared by all the other provinces. Even though a number of European and Commonwealth countries recognize the importance of this holiday, some of our provincial brethren don’t see it as holiday-worthy? Is the good Father also recommending these other countries’ should cease their traditional Remembrance Day observances which include a day off work? Serbia began to recognize the annual celebration in 2012. More and more are recognizing the importance of the day and that it is truly deserved of being a stat holiday. The freedom bought with soldier’s blood certainly warrants a day off, to be celebrated any way we wish, more than, say Victoria Day. Yes, Victoria Day where we have a day off because why again? Because it’s May after a long, hard winter and we need a day off for crying out loud. Remembrance Day has far more significance and meaning for Canadians but it’s not as worthy to be a holiday?

According to the piece, Father de Souza, feels that since the majority do not avail themselves of community Remembrance services in places that provide the day off ,no one should get to have a day off to go to them. Why he would choose to punish those that do take advantage of the time off for the purpose that is hoped for, he doesn’t say. He thinks that having people stop for a minute silence at work should suffice. He is so wrong.

I can’t say if I would stop for a minute of silence if I ever found myself at work on November 11 as I am fortunate to live where we have always had it off in my memory. However, knowing the businesses I have worked for in the past, I can’t picture getting together for a minute of silence with my workmates. We would probably just keep working, oblivious to the time. I would be most interested in how many businesses in Ontario and Quebec; the two most populous provinces that don’t observe November 11th as a stat holiday, take time together to honour our fallen heroes, as Father de Souza suggests they do. For far too many it’s just another day at the office, a position I might have if I never had the chance to attend our local services.

I wish Father de Souza could have been in the Calmar Legion for the Remembrance Day service this year. It wasn’t an exceptionally wonderful episode, but rather just typically wonderful. The writer/priest would have witnessed our legion filled to capacity with about 300 reverent Canadians, plus contingents of our soldiers, RCMP members, EMTs, and our local fire brigade.

There were wreath layers in a steady stream placing poppy-festooned greenery around the cenotaph. It may not be as well choreographed as the services held in Ottawa, but the local program is at least as fervently regarded by the assembled throng as those in the capital or indeed in any Remembrance gathering place across the land.

I, too, laid a wreath, along with my brother, Bob and son, Wil, on behalf of my father, who was a very military man; having fought in Korea and WWII, as well as spending time as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon in the late 1970’s. We also escorted my 92 year-old Mom as she laid a wreath as well, in honour of the Silver Cross Mother.

Maybe I feel the way I do about Remembrance Day because of my father, however, it wasn’t just me giving the soldiers in the hall prolonged applause and a standing ovation. As a person who performs theatre regularly in that same venue, I can tell you I can only dream of having an audience that large or that respectful. In fact, there are few, if any events held in the legion; by far the biggest hall in the area, that attract the crowd that Remembrance Day does.

If Father de Souza could have been there he could have heard us all singing O Canada and God Save the Queen as if with one voice. He would have heard “Onward Christian Soldiers” sung by the assembled as they have every year in my memory. That hymn is such a part of the fabric of our community; it was included in a play about the first half a century of Calmar’s history. When the play was staged and the actors began singing that song recreating that first Remembrance Day, the packed hall rose to their feet and sang along with the actors. It was evidence of the indelible the mark that song and this ceremony has on our collective psyche.

So, maybe, Father de Souza, has never become familiar with the small town services that unfold in practically every Alberta community and mean so much to us. Despite being a transplanted Albertan, he may never have been exposed to the type of event we experience here annually. Until he does, he should keep his opinions on the value of a day off for Remembrance Day to himself.

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