One of the main purposes of the Royal Canadian Legion is perpetuating the memory of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces to restore and maintain Freedom in the world. In World War I, World War II, Korea, Peace Keeping operations and the recent war in Afghanistan more than 117,000 Canadians gave up their young lives. Hundreds of thousands more endured the severe hardships and terrible conditions of the battle fields. They came home with physical and mental scars which would never heal. “Freedom is not free.” We must ever strive ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain and that such major conflicts never happen again.
Remembrance Day is held every November 11, the anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I. Veterans, participants and members of the public meet at the Cenotaph for the service. The Garrison Parade, involving all the local Reserve units and Veterans’ organizations is held on the closest Sunday, to allow those who have to work on the eleventh to participate. Related activities take place through the week. Remembrance Day is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the service to our country. Of course, in the Royal Canadian Legion, we do not keep Remembrance but one day a year. We keep it all year. Every meeting is opened and closed with a reverent Remembrance ritual. We also hold two church parades, a Decoration Day parades in the cemeteries in June and participate in the parades of our fellow veterans organizations.
“They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Decoration Day is to honour the veterans who survived the wars and came home. The graves of veterans are decorated with flags and a parade and service are held. The first Decoration Day in Hamilton was in 1928. Veterans marched from the Armories to Dundurn Park for a service. Then widows and veterans were then bused to the various cemeteries to decorate the graves. Another parade and service would be held at the Cenotaph in the afternoon.
In 1932, Eastlawn and Bartonville cemeteries were allocated to Branch 58 for the decorating and service. Branch 58 had always invited the other east end veterans clubs to participate and in 1956 asked them to be full partners. The East Hamilton Decoration Day Committee was formed and the present system of rotating the host club began. In 1966, permission was granted to hold the East End Decoration on a different date to allow better participation in the Cenotaph parade. The main Decoration Day would take place in early June and the East Hamilton Decoration Day would be in late August each year.
With the number of participants dwindling each year, the Decoration Days have been downsized. There is no longer a Cenotaph parade downtown. A small parade takes place in either the Woodland or Hamilton Cemetery. The East Hamilton Decoration Day service took place in Eastlawn Cemetery. All the veterans clubs participate in both parades.
Starting in 2017, the East Hamilton Decoration Day in August will be discontinued. Since there is only one Veterans club in the lower city outside East Hamilton, Her Majesty’s Army and Navy Association, it was decided to keep the original Decoration Day in June. The parade will alternate each year between Eastlawn and Woodland Cemeteries.
The Poppy is the recognized international symbol of Remembrance, inspired by Col. John McCrea’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” From the last weekend in October until November 11, Legion members, cadets and volunteers will be seen selling poppies at the malls and in public places. Many small businesses are pleased to allow the Legion to leave a poppy box on their counters for donations. Funds raised are used to help veterans and dependents in distress, to provide canes, wheelchairs and other assistive devices and to help hospitals to provide better care through equipment for veterans and others. The Poppy Campaign also serves to keep the memory of the sacrifices and Remembrance alive and in the public eye. During the campaign, veterans visit the schools to talk to the students about their experiences and the importance of Remembrance. This also connects children to real people who were there.