Large crowd turns out to pay their respects in Old Town
They came to remember on Saturday — hundreds of people, young, old, veterans and those compelled to pay their respects for sacrifices made so many decades ago.
It was one of the largest crowds in recent memory.
In Old Town, for Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, the day was especially poignant.
His son Nathan, 23, a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy and stationed in Esquimalt, B.C., figured in his father’s speech to the crowd, along with several other NOTL natives serving in the military.
Having a son in the military has “changed the perspective on Remembrance Day so much for our family,” Zalepa said later.
“It makes it really raw and much more apparent.”
In Queenston, site of the town’s second service of the day, Barbara Bentley was there with her husband Lee in honour of her dad.
“My father is a 103-year-old veteran,” Barbara Bentley told The Lake Report. “So it’s very important to be here.”
Harold Douglas Freeston joined the army in 1939 at age 19 and fought throughout the Second World War, Bentley said.
She believes her father is one of the last living veterans from that war. The centenarian now resides in an independent living home in B.C.
Bentley and her husband feel they need to come out on Nov. 11 and remember his service.
“Because he is so far away, and he has had some health issues over the last three months, there was no chance for him to have gone to the cenotaph,” she said.
Growing up, speaking about what happened during the war was a taboo subject and only in the past 20 years has she learned about what her father went through.
“It was actually never spoken about in the home of any of the kids I knew. It was just too hard,” she said.
“It’s a whole different life. My dad lost two uncles in the First World War,” Bentley said.
Since moving back to Niagara-on-the-Lake, she and her husband always attend the smaller Queenston service because it is more intimate.
“It’s actually very emotional with only a few people. It seems to be very personal,” she said.
The day’s ceremonies began at 10:45 a.m., when hundreds of NOTLers and visitors filled Queen Street surrounding the cenotaph. The Queenston ceremony followed at 1 p.m.
In Old Town, after the traditional two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. in front of the cenotaph, Zalepa addressed the crowd a capella, as the sound system for the ceremony wasn’t working properly.
“The names listed on the cenotaph were our neighbours, friends, family and leaders,” Zalepa said.
With time marching on, it can be easy to forget just how relevant Remembrance Day is, he added.
“Some of these connections with more current community members serving, that’s where it can be hard,” the mayor said, adding that some families with connections to recent conflicts have a hard time even making it out to the ceremonies.
In the crowd in front of the cenotaph were members of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire Department, the 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and uniformed veterans and Legion members.
Several community members, families, businesses and organizations laid commemorative wreaths at both ceremonies.
Zalepa said he felt proud to read out the names of NOTL military personnel who are currently serving – his son included – and expressed a hope to draw more attention to the young people who join the forces.
He also singled out Sailor 3rd class Thomas Carbone, who recently returned from Operation
Reassurance in the Baltic, Cadet Dante Bell, and Sub-Lt. Luca Lavoie, who is based in Esquimalt.
“There are others and I’m going to commit to drawing attention to them over the next few years,” he said.
“People told me they appreciated hearing the (NOTL) connection and they want to hear more.”