The shrill cry of the bag-pipe filled the air, putting the chatter in the capacity packed room at Ryerson University on mute. The audience featured a number of dignitaries including judges, lawyers, retired and active members of the armed forces, along with several members of government including Toronto mayor-elect John Tory.
“It is not just today that we should pause to give thanks,” said Tory. “But in how we live our lives in celebration of the freedoms these people have fought and died for.”
Tory said that Remembrance Day celebrations should be inclusive and must be made to reflect the diverse races that make up Canada; a point that was echoed by Senator Anne Cools, the first and only black female senator in Canada.
“I know the importance of representation,” Cools said. “Many of these men were fighting for a country that did not even recognize their civil liberties. So we have to celebrate them and show the rest of Canada that they existed and they matter.”
Keisha Johnson, CAO of Pathfinders Canada, said due to the multiple races that exist across Canada, minority groups can easily be broad brushed in times like these.
“We still need to be very deliberate in honouring the various communities and their individual contributions,” she said. “Even today there are many veterans who have done tremendous work but have not received the validation for the work they’ve done.” Johnson, who attended with her husband and daughter, said it was also important for young people to see themselves represented and shown respect during these celebrations.
Theo Williams a 15-year-old student at Crawford Adventist Academy, said he felt “inspired” just being at the ceremony. “It was a breath of fresh-air,” he said. “We often hear so much negatives about black people in Canada that to have this type of event makes me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.” Williams said he had never really given much thought to joining the armed forces but would consider it now after attending this event. “Now that I am seeing that black people are being recognized, I will consider it,” he said.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer Carl Deroche reflected on his days in the army in a phone interview prior to the event. He spoke joyfully of jumping out of airplanes with other Canadians who he would have never met had it not been for enlisting in the army.
“I owe everything to the armed forces,” he said. It gave me the foundation to know with confidence that I can do anything. The armed forces demonstrates ethics, self-discipline, respect, integrity and courage.
Corporal Michael Grant of the North York region, said he was happy to see so many young people in the crowd and said he knows the army is a healthy choice for them. He said things have changed tremendously and many barriers have been broken down on the issue of race and gender. “The next stop is to see a black general, a black colonel leading from the front,” Grant said.