The Silent Walk continues to be an important part of Tillsonburg's Remembrance Day tradition.
Based on a walk in Holland viewed by Muriel McCallum, the first Tillsonburg Silent Walk was spearheaded by Carl S. Cowden, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 153, who in September 2005 made a pitch to Mayor Stephen Molnar and town council.
“This is the 60th year of the liberation of Europe and probably one of the last times that remaining veterans will act as a group to commemorate the end of WWII in Europe,” Cowden wrote in 2005. “We, the Town of Tillsonburg and the Legion, have been conducting Remembrance Services on November 11th for many years. There has been little or no change in the presentation almost since it was started. This letter is suggesting a change...”
Cowden, a 30-year military veteran, suggested The Silent Walk, open to the entire community, which would commemorate those who served and sacrificed during the great wars.
“I do not think it has been done in Canada,” Cowden wrote. “We would probably be the first to present The Silent Walk.”
The idea was to have townspeople gather at a location at 10:15 a.m. within a reasonable walking distance of the cenotaph to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. They chose the head of Veteran's Memorial Walkway on the corner of Rolph and Bridge Streets as their starting point. Those who did not join the Silent Walk could meet at the cenotaph at 10:45 a.m. where the Remembrance Service would commence at the traditional time.
“The impressive thing about this walk is THE SILENCE,” Cowden wrote. “No bands, as little traffic as possible. No talking. The whole effort takes 10 or less minutes. When the walkers reach the cenotaph, they will hear In Flanders Fields.”
Cowden's request was granted, Tillsonburg held its first Silent Walk in 2005, and since then it has been an annual tradition.
Dorothy MacDonald picked up the torch in 2010 as organizer.
"We were friends of Carl's through the Legion," said MacDonald. "He was moving to Parkwood in London, and he was concerned that the Silent Walk be continued, and I offered to do it for him."
MacDonald said she will be carrying a picture of a veteran during this year's Silent Walk, and is encouraging all participants to do the same, as a tribute to a veteran of their choice.
"A couple of years ago I saw someone who participated in the Silent Walk carrying a picture... and I thought it was a great idea and wanted to follow through with it. To me, it will help make the walk more personal. Instead of thinking of our veterans in general, you're bringing it closer to home."
MacDonald chose Courtland's William 'Bill' Findley (1925-2013) to be the veteran she remembers during the 2017 Silent Walk.
"I met (Findley) in the Legion and admired him," said MacDonald. "He had some great stories."
Participants this year will once again meet at the corner of Bidwell and Bridge Streets at 10:15 a.m. and 'step off' at 10:30.
"We walk behind the Canadian flag and the Mayor. And then at the cenotaph, someone reads the Warriors Prayer, and someone else reads In Flanders Fields. Then the parade comes in from the Legion. So it all fits in very nicely."
It's not a long walk, said MacDonald, but it holds a lot of importance for participants, which can vary in number from year to year. Some years they have 50-75 people, some years more.
"Usually there are people lined up along the sidewalks, too, that sort of trail in at the end.
"To me, the Silent Walk helps to focus people... so they're already focused by the time the (cenotaph) service starts."
Weekend Remembrance Day ceremonies - and Silent Walks - are traditionally well attended in Tillsonburg, and MacDonald expects that trend to continue this year.