By Lorraine Payette, written November 13, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) The rain fell like icy tears, splattering camera lenses and chilling participants as Gananoque gathered in Town Park on November 11 to celebrate Remembrance Day.
“The First World War began on August 4, 1914, and ended on November 11, 1918,” said Bill Beswetherick, historian and member of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 92. “Three weeks after the start of the First World War Major Russel Britton, after whom the Gananoque Legion is named, led 130 Gananoque and area men out of town. Within weeks they were in England waiting to go to the trenches of the Western front.”
Remembrance Day, also known in other places as Veterans Day and Armistice Day, was started as a solemn tribute to the memory of that war and all who made the supreme sacrifice during that time in order that we might live in peace and serenity. Its main focus was on peace, and maintaining that peace forever into the future. Indeed, the horrors of WWI were so great that it was called “the war to end all wars.”
Sadly, that did not prove to be true.
“Over 1,000 local mean and women enlisted during the two world wars,” said Beswetherick. “Virtually all of Canada’s war dead were volunteers as Canada did not have conscription until later in both world wars.”
Fifty-eight local men gave their lives in WWI, and in their memory, 58 trees were planted in Town Park in May, 1919, at the first Remembrance ceremony commemorating their sacrifice.
On December 15, 1920, the cenotaph was dedicated. A soldier stands at rest upon its top, bearing in his hand the message that notified all of the end of the war.
“The bottom portion of the cenotaph was added in 1946 and includes the names of the 25 local dead from the Second World War,” said Beswetherick. “The name of Corporal Randy Payne, killed in Afghanistan, was added in 2006.
“The youngest local soldier to lose his life in war was William Dailey, age 15, and the oldest was John Leakey, age 50. Three local familiews each lost two sons in the First World War and one family lost a son in each of gthe World Wars.”
Great pains were taken to restore the cenotaph in2005, and it underwent another cleaning just a few weeks ago.
There are a number of WWII veterans living in Gananoque. Some were marching with the Legion Colour Party. Others, the oldest veterans in the area, include Jack Harding, Bill Nuttall and John Matheson, all in their 90s. Harding’s brother, Don, a naval veteran, will be 101 in just a few weeks.
CFB Kingston sent a large contingent to participate in the day’s ceremonies, as did the Queen’s University Bands. Gananoque’s own 492 Military Police Cadet Corps made up the Guard of Honour on the cenotaph, with other members of their group assisting in handing out programmes and collecting for the poppy fund.
The Gananoque Choral Society led the singing of hymns, while the ceremonies were officiated by Reverend Don Casselman and Gananoque Legion padre Reverend Harold Miller.
Crowds gathered early, filling the park and spilling out into the streets. All who came, young to old, stood in solemn silence as they paid homage to those who served in times past and to those who continue to serve today.
“We came here because we have to remember,” said one young student from Linklater Public School. “We can’t ever forget.”