This Remembrance Day, British Columbians are fighting a very different kind of battle.
But thanks to the staff at Victoria’s Veterans Memorial Lodge, they have shown that making alternative options can make Remembrance Day a reality, even during a COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mandy Parker, vice-president of philanthropy and communications for Broadmead Care, past years’ celebrations were really something special.
“In past years, we would fill up the Oak Room with more than 100 family members, residents, and members of the military for speeches and remarks,” Parker said. “During the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy came to perform.”
The lodge is special. It’s a place that provides a home-like atmosphere for veterans and the public. It features 225 beds, with more than half made available for Canadian war-service veterans from the Second Word War, the Korean War and people who are present-day veterans. As the years progress, the number of surviving veterans who provided their service to Canada dwindle, which is why Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 is so important to the lodge and its residents. It’s an opportunity to recognize and thank these men and women for their service.
Parker has fond memories of this important day and recognizes how significant it is to residents each year.
“Some of our residents even stand at attention – it’s almost a reflex. One year, a veteran wished to have medals pinned to his uniform. He was in a wheelchair and wasn’t able to do so himself. A young service member in attendance knelt and pinned the medals to his chest. It was an extremely touching moment, seeing the younger generation taking time to show respect and pick up and carry the torch on from the veteran.”
The lodge has caught the eye of local newspaper columnist Jack Knox, who wrote a series of articles over the years describing the thrilling and daring exploits of lodge resident veterans. The series included a special story to memorialize the passing of 103-year-old Mac Colquhoun, who had incredible stories of escape during his time as a prisoner of war during the Second World War. Colquhoun and other veterans have since passed away, but thanks to the lodge and the work of Knox, their stories live on to inspire the next generation.
It's these stories and their historical importance that make staff at the lodge determined to have a ceremony this year. True, it won’t be like past observances described by Parker, but it’s important that there is still a way to show veterans that they are honoured and respected.
That’s why the lodge isn’t going to let COVID-19 sidetrack this important day. Instead, staff at Veterans Memorial Lodge asked: What can we do to make this year special and safe?
“They’re so amazing at looking for ways to make an event work. I was blown away by their efforts and ideas. It’s just incredible,” Parker said.
Options proposed by staff included specific lodge events, with each lodge hosting a variety of activities ranging from a recitation of In Flanders Fields and the Canadian anthem, to a panel discussion about what Remembrance Day means to veterans and residents. Perhaps best of all, staff arranged an outdoor performance by the Canadian Scottish Regiment Pipes & Drums band, which performs every year on this date. Band members will be physically distant from one another but are committed to this year’s performance. They never miss a year and this year is no different — even though they’re starting at the bank across the street, instead of the grand Oak Room, and hoofing it around the outside of the lodge.
The lodge also owes great thanks to the Royal Canadian Legion that provides funding to support veterans through poppy sales. Due to the pandemic, this year’s poppy sales are in jeopardy and the legion is looking for other options, including online donations. Visitors to the Veterans Memorial Lodge website can view veterans’ stories, as well as contribute to the poppy fund.
At Veterans Memorial Lodge, nestled in the Broadmead Village amongst Garry Oak meadows and gently rolling greenspaces, the impact of COVID-19 can be seen in now-empty hallways, once bustling with vibrant conversation. Previously, the lodge was overflowing with volunteers and family members, care staff, cleaning and maintenance staff, all coming together to support their cherished residents. Now the hallways echo with an eerie silence, a reminder of all that has changed.
The venerable Oak Room, the showpiece of Veterans Memorial Lodge, was once a place of entertainment, fun times and friendly residents coming together. There was live music at cocktail hour, where the drinks were cold and the jazz was hot. Now the room is emptier and darker, lit only by the glow of the jewel-toned stained glass windows. Rather than bright lights and crowded tables of friends and family, loved ones gather on opposite sides of windows for visits.
No one has emerged unscathed. Everyone’s lives, their routines and their very existences were uprooted, and in some cases, forever altered. And the devastating impact upon the most vulnerable among us has taken its toll, with Elders and seniors in communities facing the brunt of a potentially deadly virus. That is why care homes and residences worked diligently and now continue to do their best to protect this vulnerable group in order to save lives.
This Remembrance Day, we owe it to our Elders to stay resilient, involved and connected to our history and recognize the enormous sacrifices made by those in service.
- The lodge was built in 1995, a publicly funded non-profit that has an adult day program, veterans health centre and residences.
- There are eight lodges, with more than 300 staff members.
- It is for people who, either due to age or disability, can no longer be supported by family and available community services.
- About 65% of residents cannot walk on their own, and approximately 95% have some degree of cognitive impairment.
- The average age of a resident is 90 years.