Every time Pastor Ken Walker marches towards the St. Albert Cenotaph he is struck by the way the applause of the thousands of bystanders on the curb affects those who walk beside him.
“As the veterans march, the murmuring is always the same. ‘Holy cow! Look at all the people!’ The veterans are very touched by it,” said Walker, who is pastor for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 271 in St. Albert.
Though he is not a veteran himself, Walker has led the prayers at the eleventh hour ceremonies for the past 21 years and he is the legion’s pastor.
“When we march together, I’m thinking of them and they are thinking of their comrades. It’s not just cold that brings tears to their eyes. It’s the memories,” he said.
Last year an estimated three to five thousand people attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies. They stood as many as 10 deep along St. Anne Street. Others climbed up and stood on the balcony of St. Albert Place. They were all ages. There were little ones in buggies and old folks bundled against the cold. For those military personnel who chose to stand in the crowd there were handshakes from fellow bystanders and quiet shared expressions of “thank you” passed between strangers.
Everyone wore a poppy pinned to their lapel and for those who didn’t have one, the cadets and scouts were there with their trays full of the little red plastic flowers, which are our Canadian symbol of remembrance.
This year Reg Hodgson will lead the parade as it sets off from the Legion on TachĂ© Street. For several years, Hodgson has been honoured to have driven one of his vintage Second World War vehicles as a tribute to those who served in the wars.
“I just reflect on the terrible things that happened in the two great wars and Korea and Afghanistan. I think of those who died and I believe the saddest thing is we don’t know what any of those people killed might have contributed had they lived. We lost all that potential. Who knows? Maybe one of them might by now have discovered a cure for cancer,” Hodgson said.
Several military contingents will join with the veterans during the November 11 parade of remembrance. There will be soldiers from Edmonton Garrison, from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, as well as police from the RCMP and firemen from the local fire department. Both air and army cadets will march along with members of the St. Albert Lions Club and the Knights of Columbus. Drummers from a pipe band and from the cadet bands will keep the tempo. The Cadets’ ears will turn red from the cold and their lips may freeze against their horned instruments. The bagpipers’ knees will be chilled beneath their kilts. Despite the November cold, all will stand at attention at 11 a.m. as the Last Post is sounded.
“We are there for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to remember those who served and those who died and to be grateful,” Walker said.
After the conclusion of the Remembrance Day ceremonies, everyone is invited back to the legion for a cup of clam chowder. Families will be welcomed at the St. Albert Community Hall on Perron Street where hot chocolate will be served.
This year the Arts and Heritage Foundation will offer Remembrance Day events at the Art Gallery of St. Albert and at the Musee Heritage Museum. The art gallery will feature an exhibit called Blood, Toil, Tears throughout November. Musee Heritage Museum in St. Albert Place will also be open on Remembrance Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors to the museum may try on military gear and look at photos from both the First and Second World Wars.