For the first time since 2009, the Royal Canadian Legion’s Remembrance Day ceremony will not be held on McGill’s Lower Field due to the construction on Sherbrooke. The ceremony will instead take place at the newly renovated Place du Canada on Rene-Levesque Boulevard.
Administrative Coordinator for the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor Naomi Allsopp was in charge of organizing the event when it was held at McGill. According to Allsopp, the Legion was concerned about noise levels and obstruction of the Roddick Gates caused by construction this year.
“The ceremony first came to McGill in 2009 because of the construction at Place du Canada,” Allsopp said. “It was the Legion’s decision to move back there because of the construction on Sherbrooke, not McGill’s.”
Remembrance Day ceremonies across the Commonwealth are traditionally held before cenotaphs, monuments that honour those who died in all wars. When the ceremony was held at McGill, a temporary wooden cenotaph was erected. Now that the ceremony has be relocated to the Place du Canada, it will once again take place next to the Montreal Cenotaph.
According to Allsopp, Lower Field has its own historical and symbolic importance, despite not being in close proximity to Montreal’s official memorial.
“It was the place where many soldiers gathered before the First World War,” Allsopp said. “Many of these soldiers were McGill students. Many actually left for Europe from Lower Field.”
The decision to hold the ceremony at McGill has not been without controversy. Protests organized by Demilitarize McGill have been a common occurrence at Remembrance Day ceremonies since 2014. Demilitarize McGill is an activist group that opposes McGill’s involvement in defense research and has used Remembrance Day ceremonies as a platform to protest Canada’s military engagements abroad.
Adam Templer, U4 Arts, served in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve and has attended Remembrance Day ceremonies on Lower Field. He recalls when a spectator chastised Demilitarize McGill for protesting.
“Neither she nor anyone around me could believe they were protesting on Remembrance Day,” Templer said. “[Demilitarize McGill] didn’t earn any sympathy or support, and I don’t think they ever have by doing so.”
For Alice Rougeaux, U3 Arts and a member of Demilitarize McGill, moving the ceremony off-campus does not change her opinion that McGill is still complicit in military violence by continuing to hold a ceremony at MacDonald Campus.
“While I am obviously glad the event is removed from campus, therefore removing the oppressive presence of the military, weapons, and other glorifications of militarism, it doesn't exactly strike me as a resounding victory,” Rougeaux said. “This might have been different if the removal was deliberate and in line with my objections to the performance of Remembrance Day.”
During the annual ceremonies, McGill has hosted various dignitaries including the mayor of Montreal, members of federal and provincial parliament, diplomats, and representatives from veteran groups. In 2014, then Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec presided over the ceremony at McGill.