Service of Remembrance

November 13, 2019

Holding Remembrance Day on November 11 helps to ensure, in Canada, that the weather will be inhospitable to standing outside, motionless, for long periods of time, and probably that is the point. A  bit of discomfort is the least we can do for those who gave their lives in war.

Even so, snowstorms on Remembrance Day are rare in Toronto. That said, I decided to embrace the snow, and trudged over to the University of Toronto to the Soldiers’ Tower Service of Remembrance. I first attended Remembrance Day at U of T a few years ago, as a journalism fellow at Massey College. Such observance was de riguer for the Massey community; we all donned black robes, and Massey’s porter taught me to pin a poppy correctly, on the left lapel over the heart.

A university is a good place for such a sombre commemoration. Hundreds of students killed in the wars of the 20th century have their names etched in the limestone of the tower. Wars kill young people. Remembering war among young people helps remind us of the promising futures that the wars snuffed out.

Master Corporal Isaiah Samson, a reservist in the 32 Service Battalion and student at St. Michael’s College, told the assembled of flying officer Robert Lesley Edwards. Edwards received his B.A. from Victoria College in 1935 and was shot down over the Thames estuary on Aug. 24, 1940 during the Battle of Britain. Samspon mentioned that he belongs to the same fraternity as did Edwards.

The Hart House Chorus sang hymns, including Naval Hymn and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. Dignitaries, including Chrystia Freeland, the minister of foreign affairs, lay wreaths. There were lots of wreaths. Then, thoroughly chilled, we all traipsed into Hart House for cookies and tea. Bells chimed a tune from the Soldiers’ Tower carillion as we waited in line to mount the snowy stone steps.

Inside, I placed my paper tea cup on the (covered) grand piano to look out at the snow and met a gentleman from China who is studying theology at Wycliffe College. The man, named Michael, told me his grandmother had been Anglican before China’s Communist Revolution; he himself was baptised in Singapore. “Lenin said we should forget the past,” Michael told me. “He was a revolutionary. But if we are wise, we remember.” After all that standing in the snow, it was nice to have the tea to warm us up.