Veterans, family members, senior politicians and officials gathered in Ottawa this Saturday to mark Remembrance Day, while Canada’s top soldier urged greater preparation in the face of rising global security threats.
The annual ceremony organized by the Royal Canadian Legion unfolded on a cloudy morning in the national capital, calling on Canadians to reflect on this country’s involvement in conflicts throughout its history, and honour the people who have served in the armed forces.
The ceremony featured several veterans of some of the Canadian military’s most substantial deployments, including the Second World War and the Korean War.
There are only just over 9,000 veterans of the Second World War and Korean War left in Canada, according to Veterans Canada.
“We’re losing our eyewitnesses to history, those who saw and served,” said Tim Cook, historian and director of research at the Canadian War Museum. “Every story is different, and it’s important to gather those stories, to let veterans talk and to share their experiences.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War, which is often thought of as Canada’s “Forgotten War,” despite the fact more than 26,000 Canadians served in the conflict.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon were present at the ceremony, along with several other senior politicians.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s top soldier, told CBC News ahead of the ceremony that it was important to reflect on Canada’s past, adding that he is also concerned about Canada’s present security.
“The study of our military history could almost be considered a study in unpreparedness,” he said. “I am very concerned as I see the deteriorating security situation around the world.”
Canada has been involved in the conflict of Ukraine through shipments of military aid, economic support and an ongoing mission to train Ukrainian soldiers.
Eyre has warned several times, in the media and in front of parliamentary committees, that he fears for the level of preparedness and capacity in Canada’s military, in the face of rising challenges abroad and increased requirements for deployments at home.
“We see the challenges that are out there, we see them coming, we have to be ready. We have to ensure that we can respond to this very uncertain and insecure world.”
Several veterans spoke to CBC News throughout the day, telling some of their stories of service during conflict in both the distant and recent past.
Mark Castillo, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, talked about the challenges many veterans face with mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The war is done, but when we come home there’s still another war that we face within ourselves,” Castillo said. He urged veterans to reach out to one another and to ask for help.
“Being strong means being able to accept help and ask for help,” he said.
Historian Tim Cook said Canada is getting better at acknowledging the effects war can have on the mental health of soldiers.
“It is a relatively recent thing, and I think we as Canadians were confronted by this with Afghanistan, and the veterans coming home,” he said, citing a spike in suicides among veterans in the aftermath of the war.
“We have to come together to continue to ensure our veterans get the care they need,” he said.