Toronto remembers 100 years since end of WWI with service at Old City Hall

Toronto marked 100 years since the end of the First World War with a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph at Old City Hall on Sunday.

An estimated 7,000 people gathered downtown to observe two minutes of silence in honour of Canadians who have served and those currently in uniform.

Mayor John Tory told the crowd gathered in the November cold that this Remembrance Day is particularly notable given the centenary of an armistice that ended a desperate, bloody war.

“They’re all special, but this one, I think, is particularly special,” Tory said.

The mayor noted about 45,000 people from Toronto served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force or in the British Army overseas during the First World War.

“One hundred years ago, the guns fell silent in Europe. Here in Toronto, a city that had been so focused on supporting the war effort, the streets were filled with celebrations.”

By the end of the war, more than three-quarters of eligible men from Toronto had volunteered to serve, he added.

“For so many here in Toronto, Nov. 11, 1918, would have been a day where, after years of bad, awful, continuous heart-wrenching news, there was finally some good news.”

Remember what they fought for, Tory says

The First World War, however, took its toll, he said. Thousands died, and of the thousands who returned home, many were “broken,” injured physically and mentally. According to the Canadian War Museum, close to 61,000 Canadians were killed during the conflict.

“We have not forgotten them and we will not forget any woman or man who does their duty for Canada,” Tory said.

History is filled with examples of the “perils” of forgetting about the past, he continued. Remembrance Day, in particular, is a reminder that the values for which veterans fought so hard cannot be taken for granted.

“Now more than ever, that way of life must continue to include respect for each other, acceptance of each other, the freedom to be who you are — that was what a big part of the sacrifice was about.”

Remembrance Day is not just about one day, he added, and it resonates today, given ongoing conflicts around the world.

“The greatest act of respect and remembrance we could perform in honour of those we lost in all of the wars would be to stand up against a seemingly growing tide of polarization, and far too often, outright hatred.”

His comments were followed by Hymn to Freedom and a reading of the iconic Canadian poem In Flanders Fields. Later, Tory laid the first wreath at the cenotaph.

Other politicians, representatives of several Toronto government agencies and members of non-profit organizations joined him in laying wreaths.

Ceremony also held at Queen’s Park

Meanwhile, at another ceremony of Queen’s Park, Ontario Premier Doug Ford encouraged Canadians to remember soldiers past and present as they reflect on the centennial anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Ford told a crowd assembled in front of the provincial legislature that “Canadian heroes span every conflict and every generation.”

The two ceremonies in Toronto were among dozens held at legions, cenotaphs and churches across the province.

Ford said his government is doing “what we can” to make veterans lives a little easier.

He said that includes planned legislation that would “ease the burden” on Ontario’s Royal Canadian Legion halls by ensuring they pay no property tax.

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