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A field of poppies
Remembrance Day looked a little different this year. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.

Here’s how Canada adapted Remembrance Day ceremonies to fit the rules of the new normal imposed by the pandemic

Holidays and ceremonies have looked a little different for most of 2020, and this year’s Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa was no exception.

This year, Remembrance Day organizers limited the event’s capacity to 100 people, but live streamed the ceremony so Canadians from coast to coast could watch and reflect upon the sacrifices Canada’s armed forces have made for their country. The event featured speeches, prayers, music, and the standard 21-gun salute, in addition to the “poignant” tradition of laying down poppies on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

CBC’s 2020 Remembrance Day coverage made specific mention of veterans’ vulnerability to COVID-19, pointing out how the pandemic has targeted the very people the holiday is meant to commemorate. The minimal in-person presence at the National War Memorial was made even stranger by the unseasonably warm weather in Ottawa (a balmy 18 C as opposed to the usual freezing temperatures for the event).

Remembrance Day 2020 carries a new sombreness: nearly 11, 000 Canadians have died of COVID-19, dozens of them being veterans

A few kilometres away from the National War Memorial, Ottawa’s Whole Foods location garnered negative press in early November for refusing to allow employees to wear Remembrance Day poppies with their uniforms. The public outcry to this measure (apparently enforced by Whole Foods in reaction to the poppies being a breach of dress code) resulted in hundreds of angry customers, and, eventually, a reversal of the decision.

Canadians across the country took part in the customary two minutes of silence at 11 a.m., from the online Victory Square ceremony in Vancouver to Royal Canadian Air Force fly-bys in major cities all over Canada.

The Royal Canadian Legion also migrated their classic poppy campaign online, allowing people who couldn’t buy a physical one to purchase a “digital poppy” to display on their social media pages. Proceeds from the Poppy Campaign have always gone towards direct financial assistance for Canada’s veterans.

Remembrance Day’s in-person ceremonies are some of the countless lost events this year due to the pandemic. Still, Canadians across the country managed to pay their respects both digitally and in their places of work, proving respect for Canada’s veterans and armed forces is still as strong as ever, even in these uncertain times.