Michaëlle Jean stood at the National War Memorial Wednesday in full army uniform, the first time in her four years as Governor-General that she'd worn military garb to Remembrance Day ceremonies.
It was a senior Canadian Forces official working on leave at Rideau Hall who convinced her earlier this year that donning an army uniform would be a fitting way to show respect for the men and women under her formal command, the Governor-General's office said. And now she in intends to wear one to all major military events.
Ms. Jean's sudden embrace of the Forces uniform is in keeping with other developments this week that further cement the military at the heart of Canada's identity - from new Sacrifice Medals for killed or wounded soldiers to new citizenship questions announced by the Conservative government.
"For the Governor-General, wearing the uniform is a way of paying tribute to the Canadian Forces," said Marthe Blouin, a spokesperson for Ms. Jean.
She has every right to do so as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces. The uniform was created for former governor-general Edward Schreyer, and on the shoulder substitutes the governor-general's office insignia for a formal military rank. The tradition had been abandoned by Ms. Jean's two predecessors, Romeo LeBlanc and Adrienne Clarkson.
Commander Hubert Genest, a spokesman for the Forces, said he was not aware of any request made to Ms. Jean regarding uniforms. However, he said he was pleased to see her in uniform for Remembrance Day.
"I think it's great," he said.
The country's eight years of fighting in Afghanistan - including the deaths of 133 soldiers, two aid workers and a diplomat - have heightened Canadians' awareness of the Forces' role. Remembrance Day in Ottawa is Canada's most solemn national gathering, but after the tears were shed and the last cannon fired, many of the military men and women surrounding the National War Memorial beamed at the massive show of public appreciation.
Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, after completing a tour of events tied to Remembrance Day, told The Globe and Mail he was struck by the rise in support among Canadians. He pointed to the large turnout in Toronto on Tuesday night for the True Patriot Love Foundation charity event - attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper - to raise money for Canadian military families in need.
"This truly is the culmination of an emotional week," he said after Wednesday's ceremony. He said a new phrase is popping up to describe the generation of soldiers with experience in Afghanistan. "I heard a term from a warrant officer [at CFB Petawawa]talking about 'the new veterans.' "
General Natynczyk said Canadians now better understand the Forces' international role. "I think we've come a long way since the ice storm and the floods," he said. "People realize our functions at home, but also they're realizing that what we're doing abroad - in places like Afghanistan, or Congo or aboard HMCS Fredericton on the Horn of Africa - is we are defending Canada from 10,000 kilometres away."
Thousands of Canadians gathered in the bright sun around the cenotaph at the centre of Ottawa. The monument was first unveiled by King George VI in 1939 to commemorate Canada's response to the First World War. References to the Second World War and the Korean War weren't added until 1982, expanding the cenotaph's meaning to include all those who served Canada in times of war.
Prince Charles, George VI's grandson, was at Ms. Jean's side in Ottawa, also wearing a green Canadian Forces army uniform as lieutenant-general of all three services of the Canadian Forces.
Parker Kennedy, who was visiting Ottawa from Halifax, said the size of the crowd at the monument was spectacular. "It's great to see the turnout. It's great to see the Prince of Wales here. … I think [the Afghanistan mission] has brought a great awareness to us Canadians who didn't live through either of the great wars or the Korea War."