Remembrance Day in Chilliwack will look drastically different this year.
Because of the pandemic, ceremonies on both sides of town are being scaled back.
“There’s no parade, and all the wreaths are going to be pre-laid early in the morning,” said Chilliwack Legion branch four president Sharon Churchill of the downtown event. “We’re walking to the cenetaph where we’ll have about 14 invited guests. We’ll have a bag-piper, Ken Nice, but we won’t have a band this year and it will all be fenced off to make sure everybody stays away.
“For everybody’s safety, we’re asking people to please stay home.”
Remembrance Day events downtown and at the Vedder Cenetaph (at Vedder and Keith Wilson Road) are usually well attended, and Churchill said it’s sad that things must be done this way.
Veterans like 96-year-old Warner Hockin, who will be at the downtown ceremony, are vulnerable to COVID-19.For that same reason, 97-year-old Harold Thorpe and other elderly veterans are unable to attend.
“My dad was a veteran and I’m here because of him. I go every year no matter where I live, and I’ve lived all over Canada,” Churchill said. “Every year I always, always go to the parade whether there’s six feet of snow or whatever. So this just saddens me.
“But this is the way we’ve got to do it in our new and different world.”
Sadly, Churchill also noted there will be no baron of beef served afterwards at the downtown Legion.
“It’s usually wall-to-wall with people and we just can’t have that this year,” she said. “We don’t want to draw people in.”
The story is similar at the Vedder Legion branch 280, where a fraction of the usual crowd will attend the ceremony at the Vedder Cenetaph.
Branch operations manager Theresa Livingstone said they usually welcome 2000-plus people to the site on Remembrance Day.
“We will have 48 people in attendance for a small ceremony that will include veterans, a small colour party, a representative from the city, a Silver-Cross mother and a few others,” Livingstone confirmed. “And we will be live streaming the ceremony on our Facebook page.”
Like Churchill, she’s sad things are unfolding this way.
“It’s a really weird feeling, with people in disbelief and thinking, ‘What do you mean, I can’t go up and pay my respects?” she said. “Not being able to say thank-you to the people who gave us the country we have, it’s really hard.”
Local legions may also face a financial hit from reduced poppy sales, with veterans unable to set up shop safely in the community.
Businesses are offering to take poppy boxes and poppies/wreaths are being sold at both legions, so the shortfall might not be huge, but with funds from poppies helping veterans with housing and many other needs, any money will be missed.
“We’ll just have to hope that next year things are a lot better,” Churchill said.
All of that said, Churchill and Livingstone both urge Chilliwackians to take a moment around 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 to remember those who fought for our country, in whatever form that takes.
“If you’re living in a house or apartment, or you have a place of business, go out on your patio or front step and be proud,” Churchill requested. “Wear your poppy and just be happy and proud.”
“Take a moment, stop and say thank you for what we have,” Livingstone added. “And pray that the pandemic is over quick so we can get back to normal.”
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