Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-311, an act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day).
Before I begin, I would like to thank the member for Central Nova for bringing this forward. It is long overdue and is an issue that we need to discuss in the House today.
Growing up in Manitoba, Remembrance Day was always a holiday. I can still recall my confusion upon arriving in Ontario to find that it was not recognized as a holiday. This bill would ensure that from coast to coast to coast, Canadians would have the opportunity to reflect and remember the sacrifice of the fallen.
Remembrance Day holds special significance for all Canadians, whether they are serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, relatives of those who have fought, or even new Canadians, because all Canadians enjoy the rights and freedoms fought for and preserved by those who fought and those who continue to fight.
Guelph knows the importance of remembrance because of our strong history and connection to Canada's military past. With the arrival of the First World War, 3,300 people enlisted in Guelph. Local union and business leaders spearheaded campaigns to raise money for war bonds and charity efforts.
Soldiers who enlisted would arrive at the freshly constructed armoury, completed in 1908, which is now almost 110 years old. The armoury is home to Guelph's 11th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA, affectionately known as the gunners, and is Canada's oldest artillery regiment. Thousands of troops were accommodated and trained at the armoury during the First World War. The local militia unit was renamed the 1st (Howitzer) Brigade, Canadian Forces Artillery. After their training, new recruits were sent east to Sydney or Halifax, Nova Scotia, on their way to France.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the celebrated war poet, was just one of the dedicated volunteers from Guelph and one of thousands of Canadians who shared the experience of war. His poem, In Flanders Fields, is inscribed in the memorial chamber of this place and has earned worldwide recognition as a symbol of the costs of war and the duty of those left behind to remember the fallen. His contribution was by no means the only one made by the people of Guelph in support of the war effort.
The University of Guelph, then known as the Ontario Agricultural College, was charged with doing what it could to offset food shortages. The war attracted many faculty, staff, and students as recruits. The War Memorial Hall was opened in 1924 in honour of the 109 who died. In total, Guelph lost 281 men and one nursing sister. The end of the war in 1918 brought peace, but it would not be long before Guelphites were called upon again to serve.
When war was declared in 1939, Guelphites once again answered the call. By the end of the Second World War, Guelph had lost 173 citizens. This included Isaiah Acker, who died while on duty serving with the RCAF. As a tribute to his service, the Jewish community in Guelph named their synagogue after him in 1949.
Guelph contributed to the war effort in many ways, whether it was manufacturing furnaces and fridges for the navy or women pitching in as constables due to labour shortages.
Today the spirit of remembrance is alive and well in Guelph. Every November 11, at the Guelph Cenotaph on Eramosa, the legion, the 11th Field Artillery Regiment, 121 Red Arrows Squadron, and community members gather to pay their respects.
However, remembrance in Guelph is by no means confined to just one day a year. Our local legion and regiment participate in charitable events, such as the United Way campaign kickoff barbecue for Guelph, and they also hold Decoration Day and many other events within the community. These events remind the community of the active role the military and the legion play.
This year, thanks to the MP for Scarborough—Guildwood and the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation, members were able to adopt oak saplings, descendants of the original oaks brought over from Vimy Ridge by Lieutenant Leslie Miller. Guelph was able to acquire two of these living memorials to the First World War. The first sapling was planted last week at the Guelph Legion, which will be celebrating its 85th anniversary next week. Fittingly, the second tree was planted at the home, now museum, of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who also fought at Vimy.
Even foreign governments have seen fit to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of Guelphites during wartime. Earlier this year, the Government of France bestowed one of its highest honours on a pair of Guelph veterans, Frank Taylor and Donald Sutherland. In a ceremony with the French consul, they were both named Knights of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for their contributions during World War Two in the liberation of France. I was deeply honoured to participate in this ceremony.
Guelph has always had a strong connection to Canada's military past and present. However, this connection is not unique. It is mirrored in communities from coast to coast to coast. It is for this reason that Remembrance Day should be listed as a national holiday under the Holidays Act. This will ensure that all Canadians are free to gather at local cenotaphs and participate in remembrance ceremonies.
I would once again like to offer my thanks to my colleague from Nova Scotia for bringing this important bill forward.
In closing, I encourage all my colleagues in this House to support this legislation as a means to further unite Canadians in the spirit of remembrance.