Crowds and participants at Grand Forks’ Remembrance Day parade were met with rain and cold winds, but the ceremony was well-received and the closest to a normal one the city had had since the pandemic.
Residents gathered on 4th Street outside the City Hall Cenotaph Saturday morning to pay their respects and watch the traditional parade of city officials, regional and provincial representatives, military, police, fire and social and service groups. The official ceremony, stuck largely with tradition, including reading of poems In Flanders Fields and We Shall Not Grow Old, laying of wreaths, the minute of silence and prayers and blessings.
Afterwards, everyone was invited back to the Legion Hall for chilli and buns by the Legion Ladies Auxiliary.
This parade and ceremony was a special one, said Legion Branch 059 president Ken Cruikshank, as they were allowed to hold a parade and the program was closer to normal.
“I felt it went very well, despite the weather,” he said. “This is the first time in five years that I’ve been doing this that we’ve had inclement weather to contend with, but everyone fared well and I was delighted with how the program went.”
The only hiccup was some members of the parade getting confused over which way to turn and face, with some turning to the crowd while others faced the Cenotaph. Cruikshank said that was due to some miscommunication on if the parade was facing the crowd, which has been done in the past.
Overall, though, this Remembrance Day is coming at a time when there are multiple major conflicts, with the nearly two-year long War in Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza conflict.
This is a good time for people to think about maintaining peace, Cruikshank said, as well as honouring the veterans and memories of those that died.
“Nobody wants to see conflict and Legion members don’t want to see any more than we’ve already gone through,” he said. “Hopefully this will soon come to an end and people come to their senses, but we still have to continue our role in peacekeeping and we have to keep everyone safe and free, if we can.”
Another highlight was having the ceremony around the newly-restored Cenotaph, which was performed by sculptor David Seven Deers. He took it upon himself to restore the fading names for free out of respect for the men who are memorialized on the Cenotaph after thinking it was a dishonour to let them fade while it says on the monument their names will live on forever.
He explained it’s a sacred tradition among the Salish to not approach someone’s space without permission. He was compelled to restore their names as he felt their spirits were calling on him to do so.
“I was as blind as everyone else,” he said. “But I thought they chose the right person as I carve in granite. I told the Legion I would’ve done it for any of the fallen anywhere and I happened to do it for these guys.”
He added the Cenotaph is just the beginning of what will likely be a lifelong mission to memorialize those Indigenous who have fallen in any conflict. Eventually his sculpture park will be at the end of the Granby and Kettle rivers, but he’s putting up several stone pillars as a fence to protect it. Each of those posts will be memorials to the millions of Indigenous people who died in conflicts both at home during colonization and overseas in wars.
Having Indigenous and Metis sacrifices and military prowess recognized publicly is heartwarming for many.
Jaqueline Lessard of the Boundary Country Metis Association said it’s wonderful to see people talking about her people’s contributions being normalized, because it has always been a part of their traditions.
“I come from the Red River Metis and grew up in St. Boniface and it was normalized there,” she said. “Now, I see the rest of the country talking about our veterans. They were always very good marksmen and hunting parties were always regimented, but most importantly, it’s what we do. We believe in community and support each other despite the differences in races, languages and beliefs.”
Her uncle, Obed, was a scout in the Canadian army during WWII. He was at Juno Beach clearing a path on motorcycle for his unit when he was killed in action running over a landmine. Coming from a military family, service was just something he and others did, said Lessard.