OTTAWA — In wet snow under grey skies, the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies played out Monday with all their sombre dignity.
Thousands crowded around the towering granite arch of the National War Memorial to watch the ritual.
It opened with O Canada and then went on through time-honoured traditions. The high, liquid notes of the Last Post rang over the chilly downtown, introducing the minute of silence. The quiet was broken only by the slow tolling of the Peace Tower bells marking the hour, then a piper’s skirled lament.
A 21-gun artillery salute boomed out, echoing off the buildings all around and stirring flights of pigeons into the air. Two CF-18 fighter jets and a pair of training aircraft roared overhead in a flypast.
There were prayers and the recitation of poet Robert Laurence Binyon’s haunting lines:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Gov. Gen. David Johnston, wearing a naval uniform, presided over the ceremonies, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
They placed wreaths at the foot of the memorial, as did Niki Psiharis, the Silver Cross mother.
Her youngest son, Sgt. Chris Karigiannis, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2007.
Senior military officers, politicians and members of the diplomatic corps, veterans groups and others also laid wreaths as a children’s choir sang. Afterward, hundreds of people pressed forward to place their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, forming a crimson shroud on the grey granite.
They then gathered along the roadside to applaud as soldiers and veterans marched past.
The Ottawa ceremony came as Canadians from coast to coast paused to reflect on the sacrifices of wars long past and modern-day conflicts coming to end.
It’s a Remembrance Day for which Canada still has large numbers of troops deployed in harm’s way.
Canadian soldiers on a training mission in Afghanistan held their own quiet service in Kabul, likely the last, as the remainder are scheduled to come home in the spring.
That will end a long Afghan deployment in which 158 soldiers were killed.
Col. John Valtonan, who participated in the ceremony, said he knew six of those dead over the years.
“Everybody will have their own sense of responsibility and do with what they can to make sure the names aren’t forgotten, the stories aren’t forgotten and the work they’ve done isn’t forgotten,” he said.