Every year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians and members of other British Commonwealth countries observe a moment of silence to commemorate the lives lost in the First World War and other conflicts. While there are Remembrance Day ceremonies and events across Canada, the heart of the celebration is at the National War Memorial on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill.

The History of Remembrance Day in Canada

Remembrance Day grew out of the British tradition of Armistice Day, which began with King George the V in 1919 when he held a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on the first anniversary of the end of the Great War. The commemoration included a two-minute-long moment of silence to contemplate the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the conflict, and soon the tradition spread to other Western European nations and the nations of the Commonwealth. 

In Canada in the 1920s, Thanksgiving was celebrated alongside Armistice Day on the week of November 11th, however a 1931 bill shifted the holiday to November 11th itself and renamed it Remembrance Day. Since 1940, the main ceremony has taken place at the National War Memorial, which was unveiled by King George himself. 

The National War Memorial 

While the National War Memorial was not completed until 1939, its genesis began in 1925 when a worldwide competition was held to find the design that best represented the spirit of heroism, the spirit of self-sacrifice, the spirit of all that is noble and great that was exemplified in the lives of those sacrificed in the Great War.” 

Over 120 entries were submitted by architects from the British Empire and across the globe, but the winning bid went to English sculptor Vernon March, who named his design The Response” in honour of Canadian soldiers who travelled across the Atlantic to fight in the war. Sadly, March never got to see the fruits of his labour. He died in 1930 at the age of 38, nearly a decade before his monument would be completed. 

Originally dedicated to the lives lost during the First World War, it has since been rededicated to all Canadians who have died in armed conflict. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added to the memorial in 2000

Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa

Every year, thousands crowd around Ottawa’s Confederation Square to pay tribute at the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial. Attended by politicians, veterans, visiting dignitaries and occasionally members of the Royal Family, the ceremony begins with the arrival of the Governor General and the playing of O Canada by a military band. The Last Post is played on a lone bugle just before the two minutes of silence at precisely 11:00am.

The end of the moment of silence is marked by a 21-gun salute followed by the playing of the Lament and the Rouse on a bugle. Then the Act of Remembrance by Laurence Binyon is recited, best known for the lines: 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

Act of Remembrance is often followed by a children’s choir rendition of In Flanders Fields, the famed war poem composed by Canadian John McCrae. Finally, prayers and remarks are recited before commemorative wreaths are placed at the foot of the monument. In recent years, it’s become common for attendees to place their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the ceremony concludes. In recognition of COVID, Remembrance Day 2021 ceremonies will be livestreamed.

Other Remembrance Day Events in Ottawa

Following the main ceremony at the War Memorial, The Royal Canadian Legion holds a virtual Poppy Drop” in which images of following poppies are projected on the parliament buildings Centre Block. Screens on the Parliament Hill grounds will also present a Virtual Wall of Honour, displaying images of Canadian veterans. The Canadian War Museum also offers special Remembrance Day programming, including special tours and exhibitions as well as a quiet contemplation in the Memorial Hall. 

There will be physical and social distancing measures in place and the 2021 program will be modified to meet local health guidelines; however, the ceremony can also be watched live on The Royal Canadian Legion’s Facebook page and on TV.

Always follow Canada and local health authority COVID-19 guidelines for travelling or visiting attractions. Learn more about current restrictions and travelling within Canada.

Choice Hotels in Ottawa