One hundred years since the start of the First World War. Ninety-seven years since Vimy Ridge. Ninety-six years since Canada's Hundred Days. Seventy-five years since the start of the Second World War. Seventy-two years since the disaster at Dieppe. Seventy-one years since the invasion of Italy. Seventy years since D-Day. Sixty-one years since the end of the Korean War. Fifty years since the start of the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. Twenty-two years since Canadian troops were sent into a disintegrating Yugoslavia. Thirteen years since Canada went into Afghanistan, and just over three years since the combat mission ended. Three weeks since the shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
The artist who designed that memorial, Vernon March, wanted to represent what he called "The Great Response of Canada." At the centre of the cenotaph, he created a bronze of the men and women of each of the First War's services, passing in tight formation through a narrow arch. Atop the monument are the twin figures of Peace and Freedom: It is the threat to them that has these otherwise ordinary Canadians in uniform, leaning into a cold Flanders wind. This is no triumphal march, but the answer of Canadians to the call of duty.
This country is covered in war memorials. They differ in style but they are all related in tone. They are places of pride but above all of loss and sadness. At Canada's greatest and most moving war memorial, the Vimy Ridge monument in France, the dominant figure is that of a grieving Mother Canada, known as Canada Bereft. Over the past century, nearly 120,000 Canadians have died serving their country.
As part of Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada, an excerpt from the poem "For the Fallen" will be read. "They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old," it says, "Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn." And how each of them would have wished to have had the chance to grow old. That's part of what we mourn on this day: the lives that could have been. They sacrificed theirs, for our sakes. On Remembrance Day, the least we can do is to remember.
Editor's note: A Tuesday editorial on Remembrance Day incorrectly said Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan ended a year and a half ago. In fact, it formally ended in July, 2011.