“What a difference a year makes.”
That was the opening remark by Ian Simpson, president of the Waterford branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, at the town’s cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony.
“This time last year I was encouraging a mass parade from the arena to the cenotaph,” he continued. “[Now we are] faced with the COVID virus and ultimately the smallest live service at the cenotaph in history.”
Due to the gathering rules surrounding the pandemic, small invite-only services were held in some communities across the county, with a maximum of 25 people attending each. Services in other communities were cancelled altogether.
Legion branches that held services pre-laid most wreaths and live-streamed the ceremonies so viewers could pay their respects from home.
Around 50 people gathered in a distanced manner around the Waterford ceremony where they watched the Legion colour party enter, and heard words from Simpson and Rev. Allan Burr, with the Last Post being played by Janet Dickson.
Wreath placement at the Port Dover cenotaph in Powell Park was well underway at 10:30 a.m. with businesses, institutions, and students socially distanced waiting to be called on for their turn to lay a wreath.
There was only a fraction of the crowd on hand as would be seen in years past, even during inclement weather.
“It is still important for us,” said Jim Pilkington, a past Sergeant-at-Arms for Branch 158 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Port Dover. “Hopefully, people will understand. I know there will be people in the park.”
Pilkington of Port Dover retired from the Canadian Armed Forces with the rank of Master Corporal in 2004. He served in Shearwater, N.S., Baden, Germany, and at CFB Trenton. He performed three tours of duty in the Middle East following the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
In Simcoe, dozens of wreaths were pre-laid at the Norfolk War Memorial. Only a handful of wreaths were laid in person, with local dignitaries social distancing in the seating area on Norfolk Street North.
Dozens more observed the ceremony from a distance near the Simcoe post office and in Wellington Park.
“Last year we had upwards of 500 members of our community in attendance at this service,” said Rev. Bryan Robertson said to those in attendance. “This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we are limited to 25.”
Robertson reminded the small crowd of the importance of holding such ceremonies.
“Today we are celebrating and commemorating sacrifice. We are honouring all who stepped forward and volunteered to depart to foreign shores and fight evil in the defence of freedom. We owe our freedom today to all who had the courage to stand up and be counted, who were killed in battle, or wounded or captured, or survived, some scarred forever.”
Judy Klages of Woodstock again placed the wreath as Silver Cross Mother. Klages son Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, of Simcoe, was killed by a roadside bomb in 2010 in Afghanistan. Blake is remembered for his sacrifice with a dedicated plaque on the Norfolk War Memorial.
“It’s been 10 years but it is like it happened yesterday,” Klages said. “I’m honoured to be here.”