Last Friday, the Soldiers’ Tower Committee held its annual service of remembrance at the Soldiers’ Tower at Hart House. According to the U of T alumni website, it is “one of the city’s best-attended Remembrance Day ceremonies.”
The ceremony included hymns, prayers of different faiths in several languages, and readings emphasizing U of T’s ties to the World Wars I and II.
University College History student Alexandra McKinnon read Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae passed away from pneumonia in 1918 while he was in active service.
“I guess the world no longer stops entirely at 11 am on November 11, but that doesn’t mean Remembrance Day has lost its meaning,” McKinnon said. “‘In Flanders’ Fields’ in particular, it is such an iconic poem and the fact that it was written by [an alumnus of U of T and of University College] — McCrae — just makes it even more relevant in the context of the Soldiers’ Tower.”
Faculty of Engineering PhD Candidate Nika Shakiba read about William George Stanley Scott and James Leroy Whitside, who were killed in action at the Battle of the Somme. Like Shakiba, Whitside was also an engineering student.
“I think part of my reading was to remind students that we sit where these fallen soldiers once sat,” Shakiba said. “I think it is important to just pause and reflect on their sacrifice and the freedom that we enjoy now as students — being able to study what we choose, form the opinions that we choose — and that’s because of these soldiers that have sacrificed themselves.”
Near the end of the ceremony, the traditional laying of wreaths took place with wreaths for the university, the Government of Canada, alumni, faculty, students, Hart House, the Old Comrades, the U of T Contingent Canadian Officers Training Corps, the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Toronto Scottish Regiment, and families. Among those who participated in the laying of the wreaths included U of T President Meric Gertler and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. Additional wreaths for the children, colleges and faculties, and other members of the campus community were also laid down.
Most wreaths came from the communities of the colleges and faculties that make up U of T. Following the laying of wreaths, there was a prayer of remembrance, in which Padre Maria-Cristina Codina, CD made it clear that it was universal prayer for all attendees, religious or not.
The ceremony ended with a gun salute at Queen’s Park; a reception followed in the Hart House Great Hall.