Twenty-five undergraduates gathered on the steps of Widener Library yesterday morning to pay homage to the men and women who had fought for their country, and to remember those who had died in battle.
But this was not your typical Veterans Day memorial service.
The students, sporting red poppy flower pins, were all native Canadians and had assembled to partake in an annual ceremony organized by the Canadian Club to commemorate Remembrance Day, also held every November 11.
In Remembrance Day fashion, club members read traditional poems, told stories of family or friends and reflected. At precisely 11 a.m., the students held a 2-minute moment of silence.
“Especially because everyone is so far away from home, it’s important to have a unifying ceremony like this,” said Co-Prime Minister of the Canadian Club Jeffrey N. Surette ’05, who is from Nova Scotia.
Many recalled the ceremonies that were held at their elementary, middle, and high schools.
“Remembrance Day is a very important holiday,” said Caroline M. Whiting ’07, who lives in Hamilton, Ontario. “It wasn’t a day where we got a day off from school, but we would have a ceremony every year. At my high school we’d say the names of every graduate of our school who had died during World War II and then we’d look up their pictures in old yearbooks as a way of putting a face to a name. And at 11 o’clock, everything goes silent, even the radio stations.”
“In a few minutes in Canada, everyone—literally everyone—will be recognizing a 2-minute moment of silence,” said Vancouver native Zander D. Rafael ’07, who is also a Crimson editor. “It’s a very uniform, beautiful moment.”
While it is similar to Veterans Day, Canadians observe Remembrance Day not only to pay respect to veterans and casualties of war, but also to emphasize the importance of peace.
“Americans always seem to say ‘Oh, you Canadians, you’re so peaceful, so neutral’—sort of in a negative way,” said Sarah D. Rea ’06, the other Co-Prime Minister of the Club and a Toronto native. “Remembrance day is not about war; it’s about peace.”
And why the poppies?
As the story goes, on Flanders Field, one of the bloodiest battlefields in Belgium during World War II, no poppy flowers were able to grow before the war. Numerous explosions and artillery fire during the fighting, however, changed the composition of the soil, making it possible for poppies to grow in the field.
“So just as the bloody bodies fell,” explained Rafael, “you had all these red poppies growing up around them. It was supposed to be a really surreal scene.”
According to members of the club, people throughout Canada wear poppy pins for as long as a week before Remembrance Day.
“It’s almost sacrilegious not to wear a poppy,” Rea said. “It’s ingrained in us because we start doing it as schoolchildren.”
Out of the Flanders Field story also came the tradition of reciting “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written at the time by Lt. Col. John McCrae, of the Canadian Army.
Rowan W. Dorin ’07, of Edmonton, Alberta, recited the poem—the first paragraph of which is featured on the Canadian $10 bill—from memory at yesterday’s event.
“Every Canadian school kid learns that poem,” he said.
Some students present at the service expressed discontent with the results of the recent American presidential election.
“Up until the election, everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re Canadian, that’s unfortunate,’ and now it’s like, ‘You’re so lucky to be Canadian!’” said Dorin. “A lot of Canadians just dislike some of the things that America has been doing.”