On Making Remembrance Day a Statutory Holiday

Remembrance Day Poppies

Lisa MacLeod, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean-Carleton, has announced her intention to introduce a private member’s bill at Queen’s Park this week, designating November 11, Remembrance Day, as a full statutory holiday.

In some ways, the proposal would make only minor changes to how Remembrance Day is marked here in Ontario. Bankers, civil servants and postal workers already get the day off and a few other places shut down. The biggest change would be for our school children, who would be kept home from school on this day. To ensure that the intention of Remembrance Day — commemorating the end of the First World War and memorializing all Canadians who have fought and died in combat — schools would be required to hold Remembrance Day ceremonies on the last school day before November 11th.

I have no doubt that Ms. MacLeod’s heart is in the right place. Like Ms. MacLeod, I can see some merit in giving all workers time off to attend memorial ceremonies if they choose to. However, I can’t help but think that the system we have isn’t in need of her fix. I have vague memories of staying home from school on November 11 in grades one, two and three, and I remember losing that holiday, possibly in grade four, and being rather peeved about it. And I vaguely recall that, while my parents kept CBC Radio on for the remembrance ceremonies around 11 a.m., much of the day was spent playing with my toys. When I was home from school on November 11, very little time was spent thinking about what we were actually remembering.

In retrospect, I think keeping children in school for Remembrance Day itself does more to teach children to understand and respect the sacrifices our soldiers made for our country. Even though we lost the holiday, the schools that I attended made sure to mark Remembrance Day with a memorial service, a minute of silence and often a reading of In Flanders Fields. The fact that we did this at the same time as memorial services taking place across this country connected us to the wider act of remembrance. It made us part of something bigger.

The fact that we take a minute of silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month carries a lot of emotional weight, and it doesn’t hurt to reinforce that weight of that moment by having our schools participate in that moment as it is happening. It makes Remembrance Day more than just a holiday.

Schools are a place of learning, and Remembrance Day is a day to learn about the past. So, the best place for our children to be on November 11 is in school, learning a critical piece of history, about what they are a part of, and what others before them did in service to their country. Let’s keep them there.

The image of poppies is from a photograph by Andrew Dunn and used under his Creative Commons license. The image was first found here.

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