Braving high wind chills and rain, more than 100 people gathered at the foot of the Soldiers’ Tower in King’s College Circle for a to commemorate the sacrifices of U of T faculty, staff, alumni, and students during World War I, World War II, and other military action on November 9.
The service began at 10:20 am with “words of welcome” from Matthew Jurczak, Chair of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee, the subcommittee of the U of T Alumni Association that coordinated the event.
It continued with a prayer from Richard Chambers, Director of U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre.
Of the multiple performances throughout the ceremony, there was a naval hymn sung by the service’s choir, a sacred prayer of Thanksgiving made by Jacqui Lavalley of the Shawanaga First Nation, and a reading of University College alum John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by retired Canadian Army Captain and former International President of the Zeta Psi Fraternity George McNeillie.
The poetry reading was followed by a memorial prayer titled “El Ma’alei Rahamim,” recited by Rabbi Julia Appel from Hillel at U of T.
“May their memory be a blessing, and may they rest in paradise,” Appel said. “Master of mercy, may they find eternal shelter beneath your sheltering wings, and may their souls be bound up in the bond of life. God is their portion. May they rest in peace.”
Muskan Sethi, a student from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, continued with a statement commemorating Private Clifford Ellis Rogers, who died from a gas shell on November 7, 1918, and was the last person from the University of Toronto to be killed in action during World War I.
Near the end of the ceremony, over a dozen wreaths were laid in recognition of a diverse range of people who were connected to World Wars I and II.
A two-minute silence followed, after which the service concluded with a performance of the national anthem.
To commemorate the 100 years since the armistice of WWI, the song “everything that rises must converge” premiered from the bells of the Soldiers’ Tower soon after the service ended. The piece was composed by U of T alum Scott Allan Orr and commissioned by Alumni Relations.
Kathy Parks, administrator of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee, wrote in a statement that members of the U of T community can show support for veterans and their families by donating money to the Royal Canadian Legion in exchange for a poppy.
“The donations enable the Legion to do their good works in the community, and also it helps the morale of veterans and senior citizens to see people wearing a poppy,” explained Parks. “As time passes, fewer people seem to wear one and maybe that saddens the veterans to observe that. Wearing a poppy is an expression of ‘social solidarity.’”