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Direct from Ottawa - May 26

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Friday, May 26, 2000

The Unknown Soldier Lies In State

Canadians are often noted for not being terribly demonstrative in feelings of pride for their country. But it is difficult to find this true today walking up to the impressive Parliament Buildings with fellow Canadians, all coming to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier.

I am drawn to a cheery, elderly lady wearing a bright straw hat. This is her second visit of the day and she plans on returning tomorrow as well. Mrs. Madison sees the event as historic and is pleased to be a part of it. "I worked at a munitions plant during the Second World War making 75 cents a day. It was my duty. I also had two brothers in Holland. Having one of our boys return home is a momentous occasion. We'll never see this happen again."

In a compelling broad two-storey corridor designed in the Gothic Revival style with a vaulted ceiling, the coffin of the Unknown Canadian Soldier lies on a catafalque. A vigil consisting of four sentinels, a sentinel-in-waiting and a commander, members of the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has been mounted for the three days the Unknown Soldier will lie in state.

In many early societies, a warrior was buried with his sword and shield and other possessions. The tradition of the vigil probably started as a way to safeguard these possessions and the body, itself, until the funeral rites. In England of the 1400s, it was the practice as the funeral of a nobleman to display his "armorials". One of his fellow knights carried his coat of arms, or heraldic vestment, another his shield, a third his sword and a fourth his helmet and crest. These friends stood at the four corners of the coffin.

A wide spectrum of faith groups are taking part in a continuing prayer vigil that began at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. A military and a civilian chaplain will be on duty in the Hall of Honour 24 hours a day until the Chaplain-General leads the remains of the Unknown Soldier to the National War Memorial on Sunday.

The Hall of Honour, Centre Block, Ottawa

I chat with folks as they come out of the Centre Block. I am curious to understand what meaning they find in the symbolism of the Unknown Soldier. For the older age, they hope it will become a symbol for future generations of the sacrifices that were made in the name of peace. For the younger crowd, they think it's cool and neat to imagine this young man who died in France for their country. Others have come out of their sense of pride.

"The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - a reminder to all Canadians of the human cost of our country's commitment to the cause of peace and freedom in the past, in the present and in the future."

Ottawa, Canada

Vimy, France

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