In a typical year, 20,000 people go to the cenotaph at Vancouver’s Victory Square for the Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11.
But this isn’t a typical year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Victory Square ceremony will be limited to 50 people — everyone else is encouraged to watch it on TV or the internet.
“There’s going to be a very small ceremony at Victory Square,” said Bob Underwood, chairman of the Vancouver Remembrance Day Committee. “Last post and reveille, wreaths being laid, O Canada and God Save the Queen. It’ll be very low-key, there’s going to be less than 50 people there. The area is going to be fenced off, to try and encourage people to keep moving. It’s the requirement by the (provincial) health department.”
Global TV will be broadcasting the ceremony live.
“It’s going to be a touching ceremony, but with none of the veterans there it will be really hard to get through,” said Underwood, who has been involved with the Victory Square ceremony since 1974. “We are hoping to reach out to the veterans to show that we are still saluting them, but in a virtual way — it’s going to be telecast on Global.”
Last year’s ceremony began at 10 a.m. with a performance by the Vancouver Bach Choir and Saraband, then vets, military units and bands marched to Victory Square. After the ceremony, there was a Remembrance Day parade.
But this year there will be no marching or parade. There won’t even be a guard at the cenotaph, because of the limited participants.
There will still be some things that people recognize, however.
“There’s still going to be a 21-gun salute, but it’s not going to be fired from CRAB Park this year, it’s going to be fired from HMCS Discovery (on Deadman’s Island off Stanley Park),” said Underwood. “We’re hoping for a flyover. We haven’t had confirmation yet, but we’re hoping 19 Wing in Comox will be sending aircraft, and also the heritage aircraft group from Vancouver.”
Most of the 145 B.C. branches of the Royal Canadian Legion will be holding Remembrance Day events, but they will be private events reserved for veterans and members, following public health guidelines. Again, this means they’re limited to 50 people at one time, or less depending on social distancing.
The Victory Square ceremony is the second largest in Canada, after the national ceremony in Ottawa. It’s located within a small park featuring a 30-foot-tall cenotaph near the southeast corner of Hastings and Cambie streets. The site was originally home to a courthouse; in the First World War the space was home to Vancouver’s Victory Bond drive, so when the cenotaph was located there it was dubbed Victory Square.
The opening ceremony on April 27, 1924, attracted 25,000 people. In 2004, a $1-million restoration rejuvenated the cenotaph and park, with additional elements like lights with replicas of First World War helmets on their tops as reflectors.