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‘A debt that can never be repaid’: Hundreds gather in Toronto for Remembrance Day service

Torontonians braved the cold Saturday morning to attend a Remembrance Day service at the Strachan Avenue Military Cemetery in Toronto.

Members of the Canadian Military stand in formation during Remembrance Day service at Queens Park in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

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THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Members of the Canadian Military stand in formation during Remembrance Day service at Queens Park in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

Hundreds of people, young and old, braved the cold Saturday morning at Fort York for an annual Remembrance Day service held to honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

The crowd gathered at the Strachan Avenue Military burial ground at Fort York for the 65th anniversary of the service. This year’s event was especially significant because of the 100th anniversaries of the Canadian battles at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70 in France, and Passchendaele in Belgium during the First World War, Richard Haynes, a site co-ordinator at Fort York told the gathering.

He added that it’s also the 75th anniversary of the bloody raid at Dieppe in France, where more than 900 Canadians died.

Mayor John Tory attends a Remembrance Day service at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Mayor John Tory attends a Remembrance Day service at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

Saturday’s event also paid tribute to soldiers who have given their lives in conflicts that include the War of 1812, the Crimean War, the Boer War, the Korean War and recent conflicts around the world including Afghanistan.

“All of the service people who have returned from armed conflict and peacekeeping missions standing here with us today deserve our eternal gratitude. Others who did not return have made the ultimate sacrifice, and are owed a debt that can never be repaid,” Haynes said.

The event began with a processional that was led by military staff in period uniforms, and standard bearers of the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) a charitable organization of Canadian women.

The morning included two minutes of silence and a laying of wreaths to honour the fallen, along with prayers and readings.

In his address to the gathering, Rev. John Hartley, a retired United Church minister, told attendees there are four fundamental freedoms — freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

“This day reminds us that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have courage to defend it. We remember today those who have given their lives in the service of their country and in the name of freedom,” Hartley said.

A member of the Canadian Military places a poppy on the public wreath during Remembrance Day services at Queens Park in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

A member of the Canadian Military places a poppy on the public wreath during Remembrance Day services at Queens Park in Toronto, on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

Among the attendees was Kurt Smeaton, who had a few reasons for bringing his 7-year-old son Henry to his first-ever service.

Smeaton, 40, a writer, wanted to pay tribute to relatives who’ve fought in battle, including his grandfather, Edward Oldring, who flew a bomber in the for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Smeaton said he’s worried that the general public seems to be becoming less concerned about recognizing Remembrance Day as time passes.

“It feels like Nov. 11 is waning in the public consciousness,” he said as the cold wind swept.

Smeaton said he wanted his son to attend the ceremony because he has been learning about Remembrance Day at school, and wanted to add to Henry’s knowledge of the occasion.

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