Wayne Primeau is no stranger to the army.
At age 17, he left his home in Cornwall, Ont. and enlisted in the Canadian Forces. He served six years in total, including a tour in Cyprus as a UN peacekeeper. However, it’s not his own service he thinks of when Remembrance Day comes around. Instead, it’s the veterans who came before him who occupy his mind.
“I’ve been here for 33 years and I’ve met so many of them, and most of them are gone now,” he says following the ceremony. “They’re all in their late 80s or, some of them, in their late 90s. They’re kind of disappearing.”
That list of veterans includes several close family members. Three of Primeau’s older brothers served in the same unit he did. He also had two uncles who enlisted and fought in Europe. The first uncle came home. The other is buried in France.
There’s also his father, who served on the home front, enlisting with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (SDNG) Highlanders near Cornwall. He died in 1944, before Primeau was even a year old.
“They wouldn’t ship him over because he had too much family to look after,” remembers Primeau, who is one of 11 children, all of them boys. “He was killed in an accident at the coal yards where he worked, but he was with the SDNG Highlanders in Cornwall. It was like a rearguard, because there was a prison camp there, and that’s where he operated.”
For Primeau and many other veterans, Remembrance Day is about honouring those who came before, while also looking to the future. At one time, he explains, Prince Albert had more than 90 Second World War veterans active in Prince Albert Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 2. Now, that those numbers are dwindling, and it’s up to the next generation of veterans to keep those traditions alive—traditions like the annual Remembrance Day Ceremony.
“I’m just happy to see the amount of people that we had,” Primeau says. “I think there were 1,100 chairs there today, and they still didn’t have enough. Hopefully next year they can put on another two or three rows and fill them up and still have people standing. It would be nice, and the service was excellent today.”
As usual, Prince Albert’s 2019 Remembrance Day service was a standing room only affair. A crowd of well over 1,000 people packed into the armoury to pay their respects and lay wreaths honouring current and past veterans. The North Saskatchewan Regiment provided the gun salute, and Father Jim Kaptein delivered the Remembrance Day address.
“It’s just overwhelming, to see this many people from the community come out,” ANAVETS president Alayne Lundy said. “I’m in complete awe.”
Veterans organizations see Remembrance Day as a day of homage, but also a day of education. Lundy said it’s important that future generations learn from past mistakes that led to lengthy conflicts and world wars. She’s hopeful the next generation of leaders are learning those lessons from years past.
“There’s always a chance that things could happen again,” she said. “You need to know what the consequences can be.”
Correction: This article mistakenly stated that well over 250 people came out for Monday’s Remembrance Day Service. The sentence should have read “well over 1,000” instead. The Daily Herald apologizes for the error.