Remembrance Day | 2. History of Remembrance Day

Armistice Day or “Remembrance Day” as it has come to be known, originated following the end of the First World War. The Armistice agreement was signed between Germany and the Allied Forces in Paris on Monday, 11 November 1918 at 0500 hours. The ceasefire went into effect at 1100 hours the same morning. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The first Armistice Day was observed in 1919. On November 6th, in the House of Commons, the then acting Prime Minister of Canada, Sir George Foster read a message from King George V addressed “to all peoples of the Empire”.

The following is his letter:

“To all my people:

Tuesday next, November 11th, is the first anniversary of the armistice which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four proceeding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activities. During that time, except in rare cases where this may be impractical, all work, all sound and all locomotion should cease, so that in perfect stillness the thoughts of every one may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

In Canada, from sea to sea, at precisely 1100 hours local time, all businesses, factories, schools, offices and even traffic came to a halt for the two minutes of silence.

A. ARMISTICE AND THANKSGIVING DAY

In April of 1919, Isaac Pedlow, a Liberal MP, introduced legislation in the House of Commons to provide for an annual Armistice Day. All members of the House agreed that setting aside a day to honour the war dead was of high importance; however, some disagreed on whether that day should be fixed as the 11th of November. Pedlow had cited support from business groups that a remembrance day be held on a designated Monday in November and not specifically on the 11th so as not to inconvenience businesses and employers.

In addition to his bill, Pedlow had called for an annual holiday of Thanksgiving Day which until this time had been held on a date which varied at the government’s discretion. He proposed that the second Monday in November be recognized as “Thanksgiving Day” as a “perpetual memorial of the victorious conclusion of the recent war”. Another member of the House was successful in delaying the discussion on the bill for six months. The House never resumed discussion on the proposal.

In 1921, the Unionist government of Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, introduced legislation to formally establish Armistice Day as a legal holiday. Section 2 of The Armistice Day Act, 1921 provided that every year, on the Monday in the week that the 11th of November fell, should be kept as a legal holiday under the name of “Armistice Day”. This legislation drafted by the government was influenced by Pedlow’s 1919 proposal.

As Pedlow’s earlier proposal had been utilized to draft this bill, the question of Thanksgiving Day again came to the fore. Section 3 of the same act provided for a Thanksgiving Day to be held on the same date as Armistice Day. From 1921 to 1931, Canada observed both Armistice and Thanksgiving Day on the same date each year. An independent MP from British Columbia, A.W. Neill, introduced The Armistice Day Amendment Act in 1931. His bill repealed sections 2 and 3 of The Armistice Day Act and substituted a clause which fixed November 11th as Armistice Day. Thanksgiving Day was regulated back to the practice prior to 1921 wherein the date was fixed at the government’s whim.

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