By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – As Canadians from coast-to-coast prepare to commemorate the unflinching heroism and sacrifices made by the country’s military veterans on Remembrance Day, there remains an acute focus towards the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The Royal Canadian Legion Norwood Branch #178 in Edmonton features a collective of members who have Ukrainian family roots, including Ernie Fadak, who served as president of Branch #178 from 1993-94 and 2013-15.
A product of Kirkland Lake, Ont., born during the Second World War, Fadak has never visited Ukraine over his lifetime, but he does have relatives living through the struggle that began with the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
“For me it is a little disheartening to see what Russia is doing,” said Fadak. “The bombing of non-military infrastructure and buildings that is killing civilians is very upsetting to see. I donated to the cause and I also donated a bed to some of the newcomers from Ukraine coming to Canada. I just feel very bad about what (Ukrainians) are going through there, being forced to leave the country because of all the atrocities taking place.”
Nujma Bond, the communications manager at the Royal Canadian Legion’s national headquarters in Ottawa, wrote to The Catholic Register that “commenting on the situation in Ukraine is outside our scope as an organization.” However, she added that “certainly families and friends connected to our veterans are very cognizant of world situations that involve their loved ones, and that does likely spark and spread more passion for commemorating those who have served and sacrificed.”
To commemorate those who served and/or died in past conflicts, the Legion’s annual National Poppy Campaign launched in late October and volunteers across the country will distribute nearly 20 million poppies leading up to Nov. 11.
The Legion has also launched a new initiative to help people remember. The new Poppy Stories initiative debuts this year to encourage Canadians to connect to Remembrance Day in a more emotionally resonant fashion.
“People can visit PoppyStories.ca with their smartphone, agree to use their camera, and then scan a lapel poppy,” explained Bond. “Like magic, up pops a story of a Canadian veteran, including where they served, their role and a little bit about their personal life. We really felt it was a fantastic way to help Canadians connect with our veterans by seeing their faces and names. It helps to relate more deeply to those who have served and sacrificed for our country.”
Increased engagement with Remembrance Day from more Canadians would delight Fadak, who says the occasion has been greeted with increased passiveness over time.
“Remembrance is something that us older people seem to have, but it seems to be dying off,” he said. “You have the one day, but then everyone forgets about it. I don’t know why. I guess maybe older people have more empathy towards that, and the younger people perhaps haven’t been exposed to it. I see some instances where they put poppies or flags on graves, but that is a very small minority. It’s nice to see it when it happens.”
Validating Fadak’s viewpoint about decreased interest in Canadian veterans’ affairs is the decrease in membership ranks or closures of Legion branches around the country. The closure of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #141 in Winnipeg, which featured a high number of Ukrainian Canadian members, was reported in various news outlets.
In Fadak’s own Norwood branch, he said membership was once above the 1,200 threshold. Now there are fewer than 400.
For the veterans and Canadians witnessing this year’s national Remembrance Day service, they will view a couple of special presentations, wrote Bond.
“We will pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II for her service as a veteran who served during the Second World War. We will also commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Dieppe raid. Part of the visual tribute will include three vintage aircraft known to have been used during that time: the P-51 Mustang, the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire. They will perform a fly-past during ‘God Save the King’ towards the end of the ceremony.”