Winnipeggers gather across city for Remembrance Day ceremonies
Published Sunday, November 11, 2012 10:58AM CST
Last Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 6:28PM CST
Thousands of Winnipeggers braved treacherous driving conditions to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies throughout the city Sunday.
The Winnipeg Convention Centre held the largest gathering, hosted by the Veterans Association of Manitoba.
This year marked the last time John Gillis, a Korean War veteran, would host the event. After being a part of the ceremonies for almost two decades, the 79 year old is stepping down, with the physical strains of emceeing the event becoming too difficult.
“I’ve enjoyed doing it all the years I’ve been doing it,” said Gillis.
Gillis has hosted the event for the last 16 years, inspired he says, by the friends he lost in Korea.
Gillis was deployed to Korea in 1951. At the time, Gillis admits, he couldn’t even place the country on a map, though he remembers his experiences there very well. Discussing them, though, is far too emotional for him.
“I don’t want to talk about what we did there,” said Gillis. “It was good, but it wasn’t good for us.”
Gillis hosted the 90-minute ceremony again Sunday, highlighting the sacrifices of those serving their country with the passing of the torch, wreath laying and the march past.
Though the event saw thousands turn out, there were still rows of empty seats, largely due to a massive overnight storm that made city streets treacherous.
“We were going to have it anyway -- no matter if we had ten people – we would still have it,” said Armand Lavallee of the Joint Veteran Association.
In previous years, the ceremony attracted as many as 7,000 people, according to Gillis. Still, he said, he’s happy with this year’s turnout. And though he won’t be returning to host, Gillis plans to sit in the audience for years to come.
Other events in the city included a gun salute at the Manitoba Legislative Building by the 38 Canadian Brigade Group and services at Vimy Ridge Memorial Park, McGregor Armory, Minto Armory and on Valour Road at Sargent Avenue.
The Valour Road ceremony was held outdoors and saw large crowds brave cold temperatures and snow to attend the ceremony.
It's believed Valour Road, which was previously named Pine Street, is the only street in the world to have had three residents honoured with the Victoria Cross medal.
Onlookers heard how an approximate 1.5 million Canadians have served in the Canadian Forces overseas over the past 100 years. Of those, the crowd was told, over 110,000 did not return home.
Children, youth and adults joined in the singing of the national anthem and heard from the great nephew of Leo Clarke, one of the Valour Road Three.
“Leo’s memory has been kept alive by his many cousins, nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and indeed great-great nieces and nephew,” said Paul Clarke.
Paul, whose middle name is Leo, said he hopes the story continues to be shared.
“I believe the story of Leo Clarke, Frederick Hall and Robert Shankland is not just a story of the past but also a touchstone to honour those now serving in the Canadian Forces around the world,” said Paul. “They come from ordinary streets, and ordinary neighbourhoods, but all of these women and men are extraordinary.”
At HMCS Chippawa, Winnipeggers paid tribute to those who served in Canada’s Navy and Merchant Navy.
Naval veterans, sailors and sea cadets gathered for the ceremony.
225 naval officers lost their lives during the First World War, and more than 3,800 Canadian Navy sailors or merchant sailors were killed during the Second World War.