This Week in History


Lest We Forget

For the week of Monday November 12, 2001

On November 11, 1919, Canada celebrated Remembrance Day for the first time. Every year after, Canada has observed this day so that the sacrifice of those who served in the First World War will always be remembered.

National War Memorial

National War Memorial
© Parks Canada / A. Guindon

After four years of intense fighting, the Great War ended. At 5:00 a.m., on November 11, 1918, the Allied Forces and Germany signed an armistice agreeing that hostilities would cease at 11:00 a.m. that morning. In April 1919, Canadian MP Isaac Pedlow introduced a bill in the House of Commons stating that this historic day should be commemorated and made a holiday. The soldiers had fought the biggest war in history, and Pedlow proposed that the second Monday in November of each year be a memorial of its victorious conclusion. Members of the House disagreed on whether to have the day fixed on the 11th or not, so the bill was put aside.

On November 6, 1919, Sir George Foster, acting Prime Minister, read a message from King George V asking everyone in the British Empire to remember the freedom won through the sacrifice of the soldiers. To honour them he suggested that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the war had officially ended, there be complete silence for two minutes. The King's wishes were observed throughout Canada. This day became a legal holiday in 1921 and was called Armistice Day. In 1931 it became known as Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day Poster 2000

Remembrance Day Poster 2000
© Veterans Affairs Canada

Remembrance Day has changed a lot since that first year. It not only honours soldiers in the First World War, but also the Second World War, the Korean War, and Canada's peacekeeping missions. Two million Canadians served overseas in these wars. More than one hundred thousand died. Remembrance ceremonies are held across the country with veteran parades and hymns of praise; poppies are worn, and wreaths are laid at cenotaphs. At 11:00 a.m. a bugler plays Last Post, symbolizing death, and after two minutes of silence, the bugler plays Reveille, symbolizing hope and continued life.

There are many commemorations for Canada's role in the First World War. William Avery 'Billy' Bishop, Margaret C. Macdonald and John McCrae are persons of national historic significance. No. 2 Construction Battalion, C.E.F. is an event of national historic significance commemorating the contribution of Blacks to the Canadian effort. Beaumont-Hamel and Vimy Ridge, France, are National Historic Sites of Canada.

For more information on Remembrance Day, visit the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site. To learn about poster art created during the First World War, visit the Poster War Virtual Exhibit.

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