Bells tolled, tears were shed, and the sound of a trumpet rolled through St. Margaret’s Cemetery Thursday morning for the 2021 Remembrance Day ceremony in Fernie.
The service was invite-only due to COVID-19 limitations. It was attended by over 50 people, some wearing full service uniforms, others just dressed warm for the late fall chill, and nearly all sporting the red Poppy on their chests, symbolizing their remembrance of the many Canadians who have given their lives or suffered due to war.
The ceremony began around 10:30 a.m. with a procession of vehicles driving to the cemetery from the Legion Branch 36 building in Fernie. The gathering then amassed among the headstones of First World War veterans. Attendees stood in a line, some bearing wreaths, with 90-year-old veteran Jock Anderson and Silver Cross Mother Beverley Skaalrud at the head. They faced the Veteran’s Cenotaph.
Fernie local Karl Schomann sang O’Canada, which was followed by the trumpet of The Last Post played on speakers.
Reverand Andrea Brennan, chaplain of the Fernie Legion, started her introductory speech by acknowledging loved ones who are no longer with us.
“To remember the decades and generations and generations of those that have gone before us, the ones who died in battle, the ones who came back with irrevocable harm,” she said, adding that “we are finally learning how to best support our veterans that come back.” Services are available for those in need, she said.
“I had hoped in my lifetime that we would not see another generation of veterans come forward, and yet that has proven not to be true. And so to those who continue to put yourself forward for this country, I thank you.”
The clock was yet to strike 11 a.m. following her speech, so Schomann returned to the mic to sing the Irish folk song The Green Fields of France.
About a minute after he finished, at 11 a.m., the Holy Family Parish bells began to toll for the two minutes of silence. Then, Piper’s Lament and Reveille was played on the speakers.
Speeches resumed with Brennan not long after, beginning with a land acknowledgement for the Ktunaxa and Métis peoples, words about love from the Gospel of John, and a prayer.
Jennifer Cronin, past president of the Fernie Legion and master of ceremonies for Remembrance Day, then took the stand.
She spoke about the exuberant youth, bravado, wanderlust, and excitement of soldiers who first enlist with their friends before leaving home for the first time. They were so young, she said, and excited for the adventures to come.
“Little did they know what lay ahead. As comrades fell, so did the exuberance. And late at night in a cold, damp bunker, they became men, as they sat alone with their thoughts. Thoughts of home and family. Fear at not seeing them again. The sweetheart they left behind. All those friends they had found and lost along the way. Afraid, alone, and scared,” Cronin said.
Thousands of miles away, their families prayed for their safe return, she said. The story is the same for every veteran across space and time.
“Our veterans past and present are the heroes among us. It is incumbent upon all of us to not only remember those that have gone before, but to support our veterans that continue to quietly serve our country every day,” said Cronin, whose father Kenneth Carlson served in the Second World War. He took pride in his service throughout his life, she said.
Following the speeches, the attendees laid their wreaths on the Veteran’s Cenotaph. Silver Cross Mother, Beverley Skaalrud, was the first to do so.
Wreaths were laid on behalf of: the Government of Canada; the Government of British Columbia; the Regional District of East Kootenay; the City of Fernie; the Tobacco Plains Indian Band; the Royal Canadian Legion; the Royal Canadian Navy; the Canadian Armed Forces; the Royal Canadian Air Force; veterans of Afghanistan; veterans of Korea; the RCMP; regional fire fighters; conservation officers; Elk Valley healthcare professionals. Several others then followed with more wreaths.
Reginald Lafreniere, who had a long career in the military and is a sergeant-at-arms with the Legion, stood at the cenotaph helping people place their wreaths.
“Remembrance Day should never be forgotten by anybody,” he said in an earlier interview.
“It’s always the time to remember our forefathers that served for our freedom.”
The ceremony concluded with Schomann singing God Save the Queen.