Regional holiday for: Alberta, Colombie-Britannique, Manitoba, Nouveau-Brunswick, Territoires du Nord-Ouest, Nunavut, Ontario, Île-du-Prince-Édouard, Saskatchewan, Yukon
The national day to remember those who died in military service, and honour those who served in wartime, is observed across Canada each year on 11 November – the anniversary of the Armistice agreement, on 11 November 1918, that ended the First World War.
Before the Great War, Canadians honoured their overseas war dead on Paardeberg Day – 27 February – the annual anniversary of the Battle of Paardeberg in 1900, during the South African War, Canada's first foreign military victory.
From 1901 until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, people gathered in public squares in cities and towns across the country, around newly built South African War memorials, to commemorate their soldiers' service in South Africa. Paardeberg Day, however, was less a sombre affair of remembrance, than a victory celebration and an affirmation of English Canada's loyal ties to the British Empire.
First World War
The horror and mass slaughter of the First World War – which took the lives of millions of people at sea and on battlefields across Europe, including 61,000 Canadians – changed Canadian perceptions of war. Although Canada fought on the winning side, celebration of victory was replaced by solemn commemoration, and a sense that the country owed a collective national debt to the ordinary soldiers, mostly young men, who had given their lives in battle.
This debt would be paid, in perpetuity by successive generations, by the simple act of remembering the soldiers' sacrifice.
On 6 November 1919, almost a year after the end of the First World War, King George V sent out an appeal to the British Empire, urging that the Armistice that ended the fighting be marked by the suspension of all activities, and the observance of two minutes of silence, at exactly 11 am on 11 November – the same time the Armistice had been signed.
Earlier that year, however, Canadian Member of Parliament Isaac Pedlow had introduced a motion in the House of Commons to institute an annual "Armistice Day" – to be held not on 11 November, but on the second Monday of November each year.
In May 1921, an Act of Canada's Parliament declared that an annual Armistice Day would be held on the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell. Oddly, the day was joined with the celebration of Thanksgiving Day, a day featuring sports, turkey dinners and light recreation. This anomaly, which confused the public and angered First World War veterans, came to an end on 18 March, 1931, when Member of Parliament A.W. Neil introduced a motion to have Armistice Day observed on November 11 and "on no other date."
Another MP, C.W. Dickie, moved to change the name from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day. This renaming placed the emphasis more upon the soldiers whose deaths were being remembered. Parliament adopted these resolutions as an amendment to the Armistice Day Act, and Canada held its first Remembrance Day by that name on 11 November, 1931. The Holidays Acts of 1970 and 1985 recognized it as a national holiday.
In France and Belgium, 11 November is still observed as Armistice Day, while in Britain Remembrance Sunday is the second Sunday in November. In the United States war veterans are honoured on Veterans Day on 11 November.
In Canada, Remembrance Day has proven to be a flexible and enduring term. It has grown to include the remembrance of war dead from the Second World War, the Korean War and the War in Afghanistan, as well as from peacekeeping missions and other international military engagements. In all, more than 1.6-million Canadians have served in Canada's Armed Forces and more than 118,000 have died in foreign conflicts.
The symbol of Remembrance Day is the red poppy, which grows on the First World War battlefields of Flanders in Belgium, and northern France. The poppy as a symbol of death and renewal predates the First World War. The seeds of the flower may remain dormant in the earth for years, but they will blossom in abundance when the soil is churned. As the artillery barrages began to convulse the earth in late 1914, the fields of Flanders and northern France saw scores of red poppies appear.