By Neale McDevitt
If seen from above, Thursday’s Remembrance Day Ceremony at Macdonald Campus would seem entirely holistic. At the centre, Mac’s permanent War Memorial, ringed by some 1,000 people made up of war veterans; local elementary and high school students; students, staff and faculty of Mac campus and John Abbott College, and residents of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Finally, this tightly knit group of people was encircled by a ring of oak tress planted in 1931 by Macdonald College to honour members of its community who had been killed in World War I. A community comes together to celebrate their heroes.
In all, some 75 veterans took part in the ceremony, bused in from the nearby Ste. Anne’s Veteran Hospital and environs. Once they arrived on campus, the veterans were escorted to their seats by students from Macdonald High School just down the road. This local touch was repeated throughout the ceremony, in which virtually everyone was made an active part of the proceedings and not just spectators.
Minutes later, a large procession of elementary, high school and CEGEP students holding small Canadian flags was led to the Mac memorial by a bagpiper and flag-bearing Royal Canadian Air cadets. Another procession, mostly staff and faculty from Mac and John Abbott College, was also piped in. The large gathering circled around the veterans, the memorial and the speakers’ podium, squeezing together against a brisk northerly wind. A high school band played O Canada and everyone sang.
“Our ceremony is not as noisy as the one downtown – with the cannons going off and shaking the Arts Building,” Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told the McGill Reporter with a chuckle. “But we are proud members of this community and we are very honoured to celebrate our veterans – many who have come from the Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital – on our campus.”
The bilingual ceremony was hosted by Charles Keita, President of the Student Union of John Abbott College, and Jaaved Singh, President of the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society.
First to speak, Madramootoo welcomed people to Mac Campus and praised Canada’s veterans while offering a challenge to others to do their part. “To our veterans, I say thank you for the sacrifices you made so that today we can live a life of freedom, a life of dignity, a life of respect for each and every human being no matter where you come from, your creed or your beliefs…
“I ask every single student and every single member of staff in our educational institutions to speak out and to stand up firmly against intolerance and disrespect in all its forms,” continued Madramootoo. “It is our duty as an enlightened society to speak up for values and dignity and respect.”
Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony was when veterans David Newton and Camille Marcotte read In Flanders Fields and Robert Venor and Conrad Cayouette read Act of Remembrance in both official languages. Following the Last Post played by a Black Watch bugler and Lament played by a Black Watch bagpiper, the crowd observed a minute of silence.
At the end of the ceremony, people broke ranks and a handful of veterans mingled with some of the school children, the solemnity of the ceremony gave way to smiles and friendly chatter. Children rushed to the War Memorial to plant their flags around it – a tradition that was started spontaneously by some school children a few years back.
Bernard Cornell, who served in the Navy (as did his grandfather, father and sons), spoke of the importance of events like this. “A lot of children don’t really understand the importance of what these veterans have done,” he said. “It is our job to instill a sense of that importance in them. We need them to remember.”
As Cornell turned to walk away, a young girl politely asked if she could take a picture with him. Holding her cell phone at arm’s length, the girl clicked a selfie of herself and Cornell – the perfect act of admiration and remembrance for the new generation.
Click on the pictures below to see the larger version.