Heroes past and present saluted on Remembrance Day
Crowds gathered in front of Old City Hall's Cenotaph and at Queen's Park's war memorial to remember the sacrifices of those who served in the world wars, in Korea and those fighting on contemporary battlefields in Afghanistan.
"Since we last gathered here at this cenotaph, another 36 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Thirty-six more Canadians lost in a horrific conflict half the world away," Mayor David Miller said Wednesday at Old City Hall before a crowd of hundreds.
"In 2008, they lived, felt the dawn, saw the sunset glow, loved and were loved," he continued. "It was for them we prayed when we stood here in silence a year ago."
Vintage planes flew overhead in the "missing man" formation. At 11 a.m., the bell in the Old City Hall tower rang 11 times.
Premier Dalton McGuinty told about 1,000 people at Queen's Park: "We honour those who have done their duty, by doing ours."
"On behalf of an Ontario family 13 million strong, it is my great honour to thank all those who stood on guard and my solemn duty, along with everyone here, to say: we will not forget."
He paid particular note of three Ontario soldiers who died last Dec. 5 in Afghanistan when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros and Warrant Officer Robert Wilson were members of 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont.
"These three Canadian soldiers were there to mentor and to teach," McGuinty said. "They went there to help others, so they could bring opportunity to others."
"The death and destruction that was once hoped would end on Armistice Day has continued for over a century," Miller said. "We see the carnage in the media almost every day."
Miller was joined by Lt.-Gov. David Onley and other officials who watched on as a marching band paraded through the area before the ceremony began with two minutes of silent remembrance.
They bowed their heads as the silence was broken with the traditional bagpipe song "Lament" and then the national anthem.
Miller said Remembrance Day is relevant today because of the world-wide conflicts that continue to take lives around the globe every day. He said the day is especially relevant in Toronto, where so many residents have moved to the city from war-torn countries.
"First-hand experience of war helps make Remembrance Day more relevant to all of us," he said.
Georges Pasquino, a 90-year-old veteran of the Second World War, said the memories of the conflict are starting to fade for him.
But George Jolodziejczak, another elderly veteran who was a teenager when the Nazis swept into his native Poland, said it's important the world never forget the horrors of all-out war.
"It is a very sad day for all of us, so we can learn the lesson for future generations," he said quietly.
"I don't think we're civilized yet. We still try to kill each other to try to solve problems," added veteran Art Meyer.
"When I think of my buddies that died, that's what I think about," said Second World War veteran Bob Melanson, who landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 -- D-Day. "War is hell, it's no fun," he added.
Pasquino, Jolodziejczak, Meyer and Melanson are part of a dwindling tribe. There are more than 186,000 Second World War veterans remaining, but their average age is 86. Only one First World War veteran is left -- John Babcock, 109.
But across the city -- from Old City Hall to Queen's Park, from Prospect Cemetery to schools and civic centres across Toronto -- tears flowed freely in the large crowds that gathered to say thank you to those veterans and the soldiers of this generation.
"Just because I think it's important that we remember the people who fell. There was just too many of them, and there continues to be," said an emotional Linda Walker.
On the grounds of Ontario's legislature, McGuinty was joined by veterans, members of the public, the Canadian Forces, cadets and school children as the 7th Toronto Regiment performed a 21-gun salute.
The ceremony took place in front of the Veterans' Memorial, a site created four years ago on the front lawn of Queen's Park. The site consists of a 30-metre long granite wall that is engraved with scenes from Canada's military history.
Remembrance Day started off with a special sunrise ceremony inside the veterans' section of Prospect Cemetery, located on St. Clair Avenue West.
The sunrise service is an annual tradition that sees teenaged cadets watch over the cenotaph throughout the night. At around 8 a.m., hundreds of men and women in uniform paid tribute to fallen soldiers by placing wreaths on the memorial site and singing hymns before observing two minutes of silence.
With reports from CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney and Paul Bliss