The City has commemorated significant anniversaries and remembrance of the World Wars through various ceremonies and events over the years.
In 2021, Toronto joined in marking 100 years since the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance
“In Flanders fields the poppies grow. Between the crosses, row on row…”
This poem, by Canadian John McCrae, began a movement not just in Canada but also in France. The verses were translated and read in every school in France. On November 11 when red poppies are worn throughout Canada, French children also lay wreaths of bright poppies on the war graves of almost 60,000 Canadians in France.
The poem was written by a Canadian and was elevated to iconic status, so it was only fitting that Canada played a pivotal role in becoming the first Commonwealth country to adopt the poppy. It set an important precedent for other countries in the Commonwealth to follow suit.
Madame Anna Guérin was a key player in a charity, the Inter-Allied Children’s League, representing the women and children of the war-devastated areas of France. The League sold poppies to be worn on Armistice Day, as a memorial to “the boys of Canada and the boys of France who sleep side by side in Flanders fields.”
The idea of using the poppy in commemoration of the war heroes originated in the mind of Madame Guérin, known as the “Poppy Lady.” In the scarlet poppies, she saw the color of the blood of brave soldiers. She had seen this blood so many times in hospitals where she had devoted herself to the care of the wounded and conceived the idea of memorializing the poppy as an emblem of the fallen heroes. She then set out to ensure that all the allied countries used it as a remembrance of those who paid the supreme sacrifice.
Anna Guérin was a guest of the Canadian Great War Veterans’ Association (a forerunner of the Royal Canadian Legion) in Thunder Bay in 1921. The Association accepted the poppy as a symbol that could be sold and worn on November 11. This year marks 100 years since Canada adopted the poppy as the principal symbol of Remembrance.
Madame Guérin travelled across Canada to promote this symbol and to encourage fundraising for veterans and those impacted by the war.
On November 11, 1921, she was at Toronto City Hall to present the wreath for the Veterans Association to the Mayor, to be placed on the Cenotaph. Having brought the idea to Canada, she also brought poppies to Toronto for the observance, the second time the public had gathered formally to mark the armistice.
One hundred years later, Canadians continue to wear poppies and place them on Cenotaphs across Canada to remember all who have fallen in service to the country.
The City of Toronto marked the milestone anniversary of the poppy with various activities:
Mayor John Tory and Gerry Morgan, District Commander, Royal Canadian Legion unveiled a poppy insert on November 3, 2021.
As a legacy of the centennial of the Poppy, the City of Toronto installed a poppy in the last “O” of this iconic sign and landmark. The poppy will be used in future years on occasions of Remembrance.
During Remembrance Week, two thousand City of Toronto vehicles proudly displayed the 100th anniversary of the Poppy logo decals.
The City of Toronto’s Year of the Poppy Commemorative Project was funded by the Government of Canada through Veterans Affairs Canada’s Commemorative Partnership Program.
November 11, 2020, marked 100 years since we started to commemorate Remembrance in Toronto on what was Armistice Day until 1931
On November 11, 1920, the City marked its first officially organized ceremony of commemoration. A crowd of 10,000 Torontonians gathered that morning at Old City Hall. A temporary cenotaph was constructed in front of City Hall to symbolize the graves of the fallen who were buried overseas, at the request of the then Mayor, Thomas Langton Church.
Floral wreaths and arrangements were laid at the base of the temporary cenotaph by families of the fallen soldiers and other organizations. It was the first time that floral wreaths paid tribute to the soldiers’ sacrifice.
Earlier that morning, before the official ceremony began, two grieving Toronto mothers were the first to independently lay wreaths at the temporary cenotaph. Although this wreath-laying was not part of the official programme, this was the only grave they had for their sons.
The Salvation Army band played music until noon while wreaths were laid. The temporary cenotaph was guarded by four dragoons as well as colours of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
Remembrance Day has remained an official day to mark the fallen, for many in Toronto. Here are some photographs of the annual ceremony over the past century.
The City of Toronto commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Second World War in Coronation Park as part of Remembrance Week in 2020. This video shows Canadian flags being planted around the Victory-Peace Monument by the Mayor, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Legion and Youth to memorialize the 3,452 Torontonians who fell during the War.
Torontonians made a significant contribution to the war, on the battlefields of Europe, in the Pacific, the oceans of the Atlantic, and on the Homefront. Toronto’s Golden Book of Remembrance lists the names of 3,452 service men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives in service to Canada. Thousands more served and survived, many with physical and emotional wounds they carried for the rest of their lives.
Read about some of the heroes mentioned and listen to a few of their stories on the Golden Book of Remembrance page. You can also listen to our Second World War veterans’ stories on our Veterans Memories page.
Victory in Europe (V-E) Day on May 8, 1945 marked the official end of the Second World War in Europe. It was a joyful day celebrated by many in Canada, Europe and other Allied Nations around the world.
On May 8, 2020, the City of Toronto commemorated 75 years since V-E Day by honouring all those who made the ultimate sacrifice as well as our surviving Second World War veterans. In addition, we remembered the triumphant scenes that unfolded across Toronto and around the world on that day, which reminded us of the resilience of the people who had all contributed to the victory.
The 75th anniversary of V-E Day was an especially important recognition due to the aging veteran population, the limited opportunities remaining to thank them for their service, and the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the older members of our community.
The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country into a key player in the most important struggle of the 20th century. Among the million Canadians who served in the military, 47,000 Canadians gave their lives, more than 3,400 of these were from Toronto.
Globally, the War claimed the lives of more than 80 million worldwide from virtually every nation. Many of those who fought, on all sides, have since settled in Toronto along with refugees as a result of the war.
The war was a total effort which involved many on the home front who worked in factories, aided militia and reserve regiments, promoted public spirit and morale of the troops and supported their loved ones who were abroad and at sea.
At war’s end, Canada had become a significant military power with the world’s third largest navy, the fourth largest air force and an army of six divisions. Canada had grown significantly through the ordeal of the war and assumed new responsibilities as a leading member of the world community.
Although most of Toronto’s military contributions were involved in the European conflict, the Second World War officially ended on August 15, 1945 when Japan surrendered, finally ending all hostilities.
V-E Day has been commemorated in the past by the City of Toronto on significant anniversaries.
V-E Day: See the virtual: V-E Day photo exhibit.
Homefront: See the virtual Homefront photo exhibit
The Mayor placed a wreath at the Old City Hall Cenotaph at dawn to commemorate all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War.
A large sized Canadian Flag was raised on Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall in a spirit of celebration to mark the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. The flag was raised as a lone trumpeter played Reveille, a bright, cheerful call to rouse soldiers from their slumber, ready for the day ahead. The Reveille symbolizes an awakening in a better world for the dead, and rouses the living to duty after paying respects to their fallen comrades.
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.
In previous years, the City of Toronto D-Day commemorations have featured a Canadian D-Day veteran as a guest speaker. We were honoured to have had the veterans join us for the City’s D-Day ceremonies. View their remarks.
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.
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.
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 were displayed in the Rotunda of Toronto City Hall along with historical photographs on June 6, 2019.
William (“George”) Carpenter is a Royal 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.
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.
An additional 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.
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.