At 11 am., on November 11th, 1918, the guns of both sides fell silent marking the end of the First World War.
After insistent representation from the then Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League, the federal government amended the Armistice Day Act in 1931 to ensure that November 11th would be set aside as a day distinct and apart from any other observance. It would be upon this day, and this day only, that the nation would pay special tribute to those "who gave their lives that freedom might prevail".
November 11th came to be known as Remembrance Day—a day each year for Canadians to remember the sacrifice of those who fell during that war and later wars in which Canada took part. The Royal Canadian Legion, as a sacred trust, ensures the continuing observance of Remembrance Day on the 11th of November each year with the appropriate marking of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
In 1970 "The Holidays Act" was passed by Parliament which included, amongst others, Remembrance Day.
NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
The designer of the National War Memorial was an Englishman named Vernon March from Yorkshire, England. In 1925 his design was selected from 122 entries received during an international competition conducted by the Canadian government.
March had no formal training in art or sculpture. Over a ten year period, he and his six brothers and one sister, Elsie, made the memorial's components in a garden in Kent, England. Following his death in 1930, March's brothers and sister continued the project, eventually completing the work in 1932. Amazingly no member of this farming family had any training in art or sculpture.
The Memorial is in the form of a granite arch, atop which stand huge bronze figures representing Victory and Liberty. Marching through the arch are 22 figures representing all branches of the armed forces which served during World War I. Upon the figures’ faces is the look of hope, and behind them is a symbolic unlimbered cannon.
The Memorial was originally displayed in Hyde Park, London, where it received great public acclaim. Some minor changes were made before it was finally delivered to Canada in 1937. For the sea voyage from England, the massive sculpture was broken down into component parts and shipped in 35 containers.
The National War Memorial was unveiled in Ottawa by His Majesty King George VI in May 1939 before a crowd of over 100,000 people. Since then the Memorial has been the site of Canada’s annual National Remembrance Day Service, with the exception of the years when construction around the site made it impossible. In those few years the ceremony was held on Parliament Hill, just as it was prior to 1939.
TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
At the base of the National War Memorial is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb was consecrated and the remains of an unknown soldier from the Vimy area of France entombed there on 28 May, 2000. The implementation of this site was a millennium project of The Royal Canadian Legion. This project, along with the “2 Minute Wave of Silence”, first conducted by the Legion in 1999, was the Legion’s end of century effort to renew the commitment of Canadians to the perpetuation of Remembrance.
Both projects were designed to increase awareness of Canada’s contributions to world peace and freedom while providing Canadians with a meaningful way to mark the sacrifices made and a tangible reminder of the horrible toll wars take on a nation. In order to continue the effort of educating Canadians the Legion also strongly advocated for the year 2005 to be designated as the “Year of the Veteran” in Canada. It was accepted and instituted by the Government of Canada in late 2004.
THE ACT OF REMEMBRANCE
The Legion Act of Remembrance, now recited at memorial services around the world, is actually part of a poem. It was extracted to become the act because of its poignant wording. The work is from English poet Laurence Binyon’s poem "For the Fallen". Binyon (1869-1943) wrote:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
We will remember them.
THE CLOSING RITUAL
At the end of formal Legion gatherings there is a closing ritual used. The words used are also from a poem which became a hymn as well. "Recessional" was written by the esteemed Rudyard Kipling. A verse of the poem ends:
Lord God of Hosts,
Be with us yet,
Lest We Forget - lest we forget.