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Harper marks 100th anniversary of WWI, critical conflict in Canadian history

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War today.

Harper has visited the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill, where he lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Harper is expected to deliver remarks later this afternoon at the nearby Canadian War Museum overlooking the Ottawa River.

Canada went to war a century ago when Britain declared war against Germany.

In all, about 620,000 Canadians enlisted during the war and about 419,000 went overseas. About 60,000 would never come home.

The war was considered a turning point in Canadian history, when the country shed its colonial mindset to become a nation in its own right.

The successes of Canadian soldiers on battlefields that included Ypres, Vimy and Passchendaele spurred a deep sense of national pride and a belief that Canada could stand on its own, separate from Britain, on the international stage.

Monday’s anniversary was marked in a number of cities across the country.

In Halifax the start of the war was to be marked by the turning off of lights at significant landmarks.

Lights were to be turned off for one hour beginning at 10 p.m. at sites such as the old town clock on Citadel Hill and on the MacDonald Bridge spanning the city’s harbour.

Local residents were also encouraged to turn their own lights off to pay tribute to those who fought.

In St, John’s, N.L., an ecumenical service was to be held Monday evening at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to mark the exact moment the British colony’s governor in 1914, Walter Davidson, was advised by telegram that Great Britain had declared war on Germany.

Davidson subsequently issued a “Call to Arms.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Toronto, a group of young men dressed in turn-of-the-century newsboy costumes drew curious glances from passers-by as they handed out “The Flanders Fields Post,” a fictitious historical newspaper, to draw attention to the anniversary.

One of the newsboys said he was glad for the chance to educate people about Canada’s role in WWI.

“Historically it has so much value, and such a learning potential,” said Satchel Ives, 20. “To remember back is to help us understand why these things happen and trying to prevent them happening in the future.”

The event, staged by Visit Flanders, the tourism office for Flanders, Belgium, was also held in Manchester and Dublin.