Finding new meaning in Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day in Ottawa at the National War Memorial

Josh McJannett is a full-time local public affairs professional and part-time local tourist. 

Growing up, Remembrance Day meant school assemblies, reciting John McCrae and doing the best you could to imagine the unimaginable—for many of us, it meant picturing our grandparents and their generation living in another time, making unthinkable sacrifices, witnessing unknowable horrors, struggling against a threat so enormous as to be almost unrelatable.

Photo credit: David Kawai

As a young person in the 90s, war seemed like a distant prospect; it’s cost and impact detached from the only reality I had ever known. The very act of remembrance itself seemed like a concept frozen in time; war was something you had to reach back into yellowing newspaper pages and black and white photos to access.

It is safe to say this has changed for me and my generation.

War and its costs feel closer than they used to.

You might once have been justified wondering whether anyone would still bother wearing a poppy or pausing for a moment of silence a decade or two from now when the last of Canada’s 20th century war veterans were gone. These days, remembrance is more prescient.This transformation follows a redefinition of what it means to be a veteran. No longer is the concept limited solely to the greying Legionnaire, honourably parading the colours around a cenotaph once a year.

After a decade of war and more than 30,000 of our generation who have served and fought in Afghanistan, the term might just as accurately conjure the image of a young woman in uniform, a co-worker running training exercises on weekends or a crowd gathered on an overpass clasping Canadian flags as a motorcade makes its way down the Highway of Heroes.

More than 30,000 Canadians have deployed to Afghanistan.

For me, Remembrance Day has found new meaning in the experience of close friends who experienced war first hand.  It’s come by watching people I care about struggle at home while their partners put themselves in danger on the other side of the planet. It’s been made real by friends for whom war is no longer the stuff of video games, movies or lofty speeches delivered by politicians, but by vivid, sometimes painful memories of violence, boredom, loneliness and heroism experienced first hand.

We’re fortunate in Ottawa to live in a city where it’s easy to make remembrance more than something we feel, but something we do. Today I’ll be standing with friends at the National War Memorial remembering sacrifice, both historical and ongoing; all of it much more knowable and relatable than it used to be.

Thank you for your contribution Josh. We’ll be right there with you and the thousands of others at the National War Memorial to honour our veterans and their families.For information about other parades and ceremonies around Ottawa, please visit OttawaStart.