Babes in arms and 90-year-old veterans braved deep snow, icy roads and biting wind Sunday to take part in Remembrance Day services around Winnipeg.
At the corner of Valour Road and Sargent Avenue, a spot dedicated to military heroes from the West End, it was hard to even tell the city received a huge amount of snow overnight. It was a snow-free zone thanks to the city and Remembrance Day service organizers who cleared the way for the crowd well ahead of The Last Post.
At the Manitoba legislature, the gun salute went ahead as planned, as did services at all the military cemeteries.
Deep snow didn't stop 90-year-old Irvin Rodin, who served as a medic in the Second World War, from taking part.
Getting to the Winnipeg Convention Centre in a wheelchair was nothing compared to the danger he faced as a young medic getting behind enemy lines in the dark to stabilize wounded soldiers in Italy.
"You've got to have faith," said Rodin.
The widower was chosen to take part in one of the highlights of Winnipeg's largest service. Rodin was part of the "Passing of the Torch" ceremony, with veterans from the Second World War, Korean, Yugoslavian and Afghanistan conflicts.
Big crowds and officials from each level of government attended the Remembrance Day service at the convention centre hosted by the Joint Veterans Association of Manitoba and the Canadian Forces.
Manitoba Lt-Gov Philip Lee, Premier Greg Selinger, Mayor Sam Katz, MP Shelley Glover and Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis were among the dignitaries who laid wreaths at the indoor ceremony.
The Royal Canadian Air Force Band, vocalists and the Air Force Pipes and Drums performed during the service. After The Last Post bugle call, veterans marched through the giant hall followed by young Cadets, Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Scouts, Rangers, Pathfinders and group leaders.
"It's important for the girls to come and be part of it," said Ally Mensforth-Joyal, a Pathfinders' leader carrying her three-month-old daughter, Ivy.
"We feel it's important to honour the people who allowed us to have this freedom and to thank the veterans," said Karen Stewart, one of the Rangers' leaders.
In Transcona, bright red poppies stood out against a backdrop of solid white snow as nearly 100 people marched from the legion hall to a church service several blocks away.
The annual parade from the legion on Regent Avenue East to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament happened with the same-size crowd as every year in spite of snow piled high. Neighbours along the route shovelled their sidewalks and the parade route, protected by police cruisers, was plowed and sanded.
"I think it's really wonderful," Arielle Goldman Smith said, walking in the procession along Regent. The 27-year-old and her husband drove from St. Vital to see the parade and ended up taking part in it.
"It's definitely an act of remembrance," she said.
The former air cadet said it's unusual but "great" to see a military parade with members of the community able to join in. They fell in behind the veterans, Cadets, Scouts, Guides, Brownies and Sparks and family members of those serving.
"Everyone's participating," said her husband, Ryan Gibson.
The strong turnout in spite of the weather in Winnipeg may be part of a national trend.
A Historica-Dominion Institute poll released last week said interest in Remembrance Day seems to be on the rise. Three in 10 Canadians said they would attend a Remembrance Day ceremony this year (up eight per cent from 2010) and 80 per cent of Canadians said they would observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. (up 5 per cent from 2010).
The increase in Remembrance Day activities might be related to Canada's decade-long participation in Afghanistan, the institute said. Its poll noted that 27 per cent of Canadians said they personally know someone who served in Afghanistan. This heightened sensitivity may in part explain why 63 per cent agree Canada does not do enough to honour its veterans; three quarters agree (32 per cent strongly and 44 per cent somewhat) that Canada should build a memorial like the Vietnam Wall in Washington to honour personnel who have died in modern conflicts, including Afghanistan, it said.