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A Guide to Commemorative Services


This package contains information that may be of assistance when planning a commemorative ceremony. Holding ceremonies and passing on the traditions of remembrance are important ways we have of showing our appreciation to the Veterans of Canada, and their families, for the losses and sacrifices they have endured. This booklet covers the basic steps of a ceremony, however, organizers should decide what to include to best meet their needs.

Organizers may wish to include vigil sentries. The vigil sentries are in place before the March on the Colours and stand sentry at the four corners of the cenotaph or memorial. These sentries take post prior to the commencement of the commemorative service and remain in position until dismissed, after the colours are marched off.

The vigil sentries usually represent the three services and the RCMP. If regular or reserve force service personnel are not available, the positions may be filled by Sea, Army and Air Cadets. In some instances, unarmed scouts and guides may serve as vigil sentries. In all instances, however, each sentry must be dressed in full uniform appropriate to their service of organization and medals are worn.

A ceremony generally begins with an address or opening remarks. This is then followed by poems or prayers and the Act of Remembrance*. Following the Act of Remembrance a bugler will sound the Last Post followed by two minutes of silence. Then a piper may play the Lament which is generally included to commemorate Highland regiments. The Commitment to Remember may then be recited. Then a wreath laying takes place followed by a blessing. The ceremony then concludes with the playing of the National Anthem(s).

*The Act of Remembrance is a stanza from a poem written by Laurence Binyon, entitled For the Fallen.

A Suggested Service of Remembrance

Opening Remarks

Commemorative ceremonies are solemn in nature. The opening remarks are a time to set the tone of the event. It is also a good time to welcome everyone, introduce special guests and thank those who should be acknowledged for their contributions.

The Story of Remembrance

Following the opening remarks, someone may be invited to speak about remembrance and why it is so important. Inviting a local Veteran is always a good idea.

Across Canada, and in many other countries, people gather on November 11 to honour the courage and devotion of brave men and women who made the supreme sacrifice of dying for their country. The hostilities of the First World War ceased on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m. the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The following year marked the first observance of a day to remember and honour those who died, as well as to give thanks for the sacrifices of those who came back from serving their country. Since then, Canadians have fought in other conflicts and many have given their lives so that we might enjoy freedom today. They too should be remembered.

The Act of Remembrance and the National War Memorial

Photo: National War Memorial with the Act of Remembrance. Idea submitted by Maurice Carrière, Veteran - 1939-45, on behalf of the Veterans of the past, present and future.


Act of Remembrance

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

RESPONSE: We will remember them.

An excerpt from For the Fallen - Laurence Binyon

Last Post

The Last Post should be played live by a bugler or pre-recorded. If no bugler or recording is available, this piece is omitted.

Traditionally, the Last Post is played at the end of the day to signal lights out. In a commemorative service, it symbolizes death.


The Lament should be played live by a piper or pre-recorded. If no piper or recording is available, this piece is best omitted.

Commitment to Remember

They were young, as we are young,
They served, giving freely of themselves.
To them, we pledge, amid the winds of time,
To carry their torch and never forget.
We will remember them

Response: We will remember them.

Wreath Laying

Wreaths may or may not be part of a commemorative service, though they are very common for ceremonies on November 11. During the wreath laying, appropriate music may be played, such as O God, Our Help in Ages Past or O Valiant Hearts.

The wreath is usually carried by someone walking alongside the person who is to lay the wreath. The two approach, briefly pause, exchange the wreath, place it (often on a stand), step back, pause for a moment (military personnel will salute), turn to the right and walk off. Protocol dictates the order in which the wreaths will be laid. According to the Royal Canadian Legion, depending on who is present, the order of precedence is:

  • a representative of the Queen (Governor General, Lieutenant Governor)
  • a representative of the Government of Canada (highest ranking official present)
  • a representative of a provincial government
  • a representative of a municipal government
  • a Silver Cross Recipient
  • a representative of the Canadian Armed Forces
  • a representative of the Royal Canadian Legion
  • representatives of other organizations and individuals

The order in which wreaths are laid may vary to suit the ceremony at regional and local levels. However, it is imperative that a wreath representing Canada be laid before all others.

Helpful Information

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