Parliament Remembers

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Canadians will pause for a moment of silence to honour the more than 118,000 men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

Formerly known as “Armistice Day”, Remembrance Day commemorates the armistice agreement between the Allies and Germany that ended the First World War, on 11 November 1918.

Over the years, Remembrance Day has evolved to honour the more than 2,300,000 men and women who have served, and continue to serve, Canada during times of war, military conflict and peace.

On Parliament Hill, Canada’s veterans are honoured not only on Remembrance Day, but throughout the year. Commemorative elements within Canada’s Parliamentary Precinct – such as the Peace Tower, the Memorial Chamber and the National War Memorial – stand as permanent tributes to the sacrifice of Canadians through the two world wars and other military conflicts.

The Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber

The Peace Tower, which sits on the central axis of the Centre Block, is among the most recognized and iconic symbols of remembrance. In dedicating the site in 1917, then Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden described the future structure as “a memorial to the debt of our forefathers and to the valour of those Canadians who, in the Great War, fought for the liberties of Canada, of the Empire, and of humanity.” Today, it is a reminder of our country’s commitment to peace.

Within the Peace Tower are other commemorative elements, most notably the Carillon and the Memorial Chamber. The Peace Tower Carillon, composed of 53 bells of various sizes, was installed specifically to commemorate the Armistice of 1918. The Carillon honours the enormous sacrifice made by a then fledgling nation during the First World War, with over 66,000 dead and 172,000 wounded.

The Memorial Chamber, a beautifully crafted room with a vaulted ceiling, was built from the stones of battlegrounds from the First World War, spent shell cases and other materials from Allied territories. Opened in 1928, the Memorial Chamber is a sacred and solemn space dedicated to honouring the Canadians who have died in military service.

The Chamber’s focal point is the Altar of Remembrance upon which rests the largest book of remembrance, the First World War Book of Remembrance. In total, there are seven Books of Remembrance recording the names of all Canadians who have died in military conflict since Confederation. An eighth book commemorating the War of 1812 is being created.

Every morning, at eleven o’clock, the Turning of the Page Ceremony occurs in the Memorial Chamber. During the ceremony, the pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned by a member of the House of Commons Protective Service Staff to ensure that every name is displayed at least once a year.

Table – Canadians Commemorated in the Books of Remembrance

Books of Remembrance Names of those who died in service
First World War Book of Remembrance Over 66,600
South Africa – Nile Expedition Book of Remembrance 283
Newfoundland Book of Remembrance 2,363
Second World War Book of Remembrance Over 44,800
Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance 2,199
Korean Book of Remembrance 516
In the Service of Canada Book of Remembrance Over 1,800

Sources: The Parliament of Canada, Memorial Chamber – History and Veterans Affairs Canada, History of the Books of Remembrance.

The War Paintings in the Senate Chamber

In the Senate Chamber, eight paintings depicting scenes from the First World War have adorned the walls since February 1921. Originally intended to be hung in a dedicated war memorial building, the war paintings portray various scenes from the First World War.

The scenes include the first landing of Canadian soldiers in France, the ruins of former battlefields Arras and Ypres, the defeat of Germany and the triumph of the Allied Forces, as well as the return of European people to their destroyed homes following the Armistice. The war paintings can be admired by all those who visit the Senate Chamber.

Lesser known commemorative symbols in Centre Block

Within Centre Block, there are other commemorative elements, such as the central column of Confederation Hall. The column includes an inscription dedicating the building to Canadians who fought in the First World War.

The Baker Memorial, located in the House of Commons foyer, honours Lieutenant-Colonel George Harold Baker who was a sitting Member of Parliament when he lost his life during the First World War.

The Nurses’ Memorial honours the nurses who died during the First World War.  This sculpture is located in the northern section of the Hall of Honour.

The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge, painted by William Longstaff circa 1929, hangs in the Railway Committee Room.  This painting depicts the ghosts of Canadian soldiers marching near the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

The National War Memorial

The National War Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The National War Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Within the Parliamentary Precinct is the National War Memorial. First unveiled in 1939, the War Memorial contains a cenotaph symbolizing the sacrifice of Canadian Armed Forces personnel during times of war.

At the front of the memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier contains the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier who died during the First World War and was originally buried in a war cemetery near Vimy Ridge, France.

Today, the memorial is the site of the national Remembrance Day ceremony. Each year, the ceremony is presided over by the Governor General and attended by the Prime Minister, government officials and veterans, as well as the general public.

The National War Memorial will also be hosting a commemorative ceremony on 9 April 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a defining moment in Canadian history.

Related resources

Parliament of Canada, Memorial Chamber Virtual Tour.

Public Works and Government Services Canada, History of the Hill.

Veterans Affairs Canada, A Day of Remembrance.

Veterans Affairs Canada, 10 Quick Facts on… Remembrance Day.

Dr. Laura Brandon, “Dispatches: Backgrounders in Canadian Military History,” Canadian War Museum.

Authors: Karen Norman and Mayra Perez-Leclerc