June 6, 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when we remembered the courage of those who fought in the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy, France. This anniversary was marked in a solemn ceremony at the Cenotaph at Old City Hall in addition to other initiatives, partnerships and commemorative activities.
D-Day was part of Operation Overlord, the plan for the liberation of Europe. It was the final push by the Allied Forces to win back control of Europe during the Second World War. The D-Day invasions were the start of the year-long Battle of Normandy. It would end with the German surrender on V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945. The operation was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Canada’s goal was to secure an eight-kilometre-long stretch of French beach and move towards an inland airfield.
The D simply stands for “day.” The designation was traditionally used for the date of any important military operation or invasion. The day before June 6, 1944, was known as D-1 and the days after were D+1, D+2, D+ and so on. As the date of the invasion could only take place in certain weather conditions, planning was based on a day without a date.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, allied forces departed the southern coast of England in total silence and under the cover of darkness. As dawn broke over the coast of Normandy, France, the immensity of the allied armada was revealed to the German occupying forces and the liberation of Europe was underway.
The battle that ensued on that fateful day marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. Approximately 14,000 Canadian soldiers fought on the beaches of Normandy. Their mission was to invade and secure a stretch of the Normandy coastline code-named Juno Beach, one of five beachheads, which were the objectives.
Toronto was not immune to the events transpiring on a different continent thousands of kilometers away. Among the soldiers fighting on D-Day were many brave Torontonians. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, based in Toronto, had the highest casualties amongst the regiments in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. On June 6, the Queen’s Own Rifles was the only Canadian regiment to achieve its objective: the village of Ainsy.
On the “home front”, thousands of men and women worked to support troops fighting on foreign soil. They were far away from their loved ones and waiting for news of the invasion and the liberation of European countries that was to come.
Marking the 75th year since the Normandy invasions by allied forces, the City sent a City of Toronto Flag to the Juno Beach Centre in France. With the kind permission of the Centre, the flag flew on Juno Beach on April 9, 2019, Vimy Ridge Day, and was subsequently returned to City Hall.
The Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s Second World War museum and cultural centre located in Normandy. The Centre pays tribute to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War. There were 5,500 Canadians killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 Canadians were killed on D-Day.
The flag was raised on the Podium Roof courtesy flagpole on Nathan Phillips Square on June 6, 2019 as the City of Toronto commemorated D-Day with veterans, diplomatic representatives, the City’s Honour Guards and many others who gathered at the Old City Hall Cenotaph.
The flag will fly each year on June 6 at Toronto City Hall. It will also fly on Remembrance Day.
The City of Toronto partnered with Veterans Affairs Canada in hosting the Journey across Canada –Toronto ceremony on May 15, 2019 at Union Station.
The Journey across Canada presents combat boots of veterans as a symbol of the many Canadians who served during the D-Day landings and in the Battle of Normandy. As they stop across the country, ceremonies will commemorate the Canadians who fought and sacrificed to defend peace and freedom during the Second World War.
A pair of combat boots from this initiative was displayed in the Rotunda of Toronto City Hall along with historical photographs on June 6, 2019.
William (“George”) Carpenter is a Canadian Artillery veteran of the Second World War, and currently a resident of Kipling Acres, one of 10 long-term care homes operated by the City of Toronto.
On May 9, 2019, George was formally invested as a Knight in the French National Order of the Legion of Honour during a ceremony in Kipling Acres.
The French National Order of the Legion of Honour was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Since 2014, the Government of France has been awarding its highest medal, the Legion of Honour, to veterans who participated in the liberation of France from June 6 to August 30, 1944.
In previous years, the City of Toronto D-Day commemorations have featured a Canadian veteran as guest speaker. We were honoured to have had the following veterans join us for the City’s D-Day ceremonies:
Martin Maxwell, Captain, Glider Pilot Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division, enlisted in the British Army in 1942. He was among the first few to land in Normandy the night before D-Day. You can also listen to Capt. Maxwell at The Memory Project.
A seventh-generation soldier, Charles Scot-Brown was 17 years old when he enlisted in the Canadian army, and in 1943 he took his commission when he turned 19. He volunteered with the British army, and was assigned to the Golden Highlanders.
Trooper Edward Stafford was born on January 31, 1921 in Toronto. He joined the Governor General Horse Guards on June 30, 1941. He served primarily in the United Kingdom and in Italy, driving a Daimler Dingo – an armoured reconnaissance vehicle.
Honorary Lieutenant-General Richard Rohmer – Royal Canadian Air Force – began his military career in 1936 serving with the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) at Eagle Rock High School in Pasadena, California. Arguably Canada’s most decorated citizen, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a fighter-reconnaissance pilot during 1942-1945.
Jim J. Parks (Joseph James) joined the Army Cadets at the age of 10 in 1934. At 15 years of age, he joined NPAM (Reserves) Winnipeg Rifles, in 1940 joined Active Force Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, and in May 1941 transferred to Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
Visit the Toronto Archives D-Day Web Exhibit for a collection of photos captured by Lieutenant Gilbert Milne, a photographer with the Royal Canadian Navy.
2018 marked 100 years since the end of the First World War, also known as the Great War. To commemorate this anniversary, the City of Toronto hosted several special commemorations.
On Sunday, November 11, 500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces paraded north on University Avenue from Union Station to symbolize the return of soldiers from the First World War. They marched from the train station as they would have done in 1918-1919.
250 serving members of the 32 Brigade witnessed the ceremony at the Old City Hall Cenotaph.
250 members of the Canadian Armed Forces continued to march north to Queen’s Park to participate in the Provincial ceremony.
The City of Toronto identified the names of more than 3,200 people who died during the First World War and were members of Toronto-based regiments. To commemorate their sacrifice, a book named the Great War Book of Remembrance was made, which will list the names of these individuals. It was officially dedicated by Mayor John Tory on Wednesday, November 7 at City Hall.
The book has 100 pages to reflect this year’s armistice centennial. 18 of the pages are blank to accommodate more names as they are identified in the years to come.
The title page is calligraphed by Mark Lurz, President of Calligraphic Arts Guild of Toronto. It shows two flags and three badges. The flags are the Royal Union Flag and Red Ensign (1871-1921). The three badges include maple leaves, which would have appeared on soldiers cap badges and buttons and would have helped to identify them as Canadian soldiers.
The City of Toronto has a book of the war dead from the Second World War, called the Golden Book of Remembrance. It was officially dedicated by the City on December 28, 1947, and contains the names of 3,300 servicemen and five women from Toronto.
The book is available at the City of Toronto Archives (255 Spadina Rd.).
Mayor John Tory joined the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Commonwealth Consular Corps for a special rededication ceremony on November 10, 2018, in Coronation Park (711 Lake Shore Blvd. W.).
The park is an important commemorative space and is possibly the largest First World War memorial in Toronto. It is being restored to its original design as a permanent memorial to Canada and Toronto’s war effort. The first phase of this redesign was completed in November 2018.
Coronation Park on the waterfront is a living war memorial that was opened to commemorate King George VI’s coronation on May 12, 1937.
The trees in the park commemorate the service and sacrifice of Canada’s military forces, principally those from the Great War (also known as the First World War) and embody the spirit of idealism that emerged following the horrors of the war.
144 trees were planted to commemorate Canada’s military in honour of the King’s coronation. This was the largest tree planting of its kind in Canada at the time. Each tree was ceremonially placed by veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
On August 1, 1938, veterans returned to simultaneously unveil plaques, with one tree to commemorate each unit that fought.
During the 1939 royal visit of the King and Queen, war veterans and the Men of the Trees and Toronto students planted 123 sugar maples along Remembrance Drive as the royal vehicle passed by.
On Sunday, November 11 at sunset (4:56 p.m.) bells across Toronto rang 100 times to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War. This initiative, called Bells of Peace, was led by the Royal Canadian Legion in partnership with the Government of Canada.
The ringing of bells symbolized the church bells that rang across Europe in 1918 for the end of the Great War. The City of Toronto rang the bell at Old City Hall.