150+ Canadians Day 114: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier contributes to peace by serving as a reminder to the tragedy of war and how necessary it is to maintain peace so that others don’t die in war.

The Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located before the National War Memorial in Confederation Square across from the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

The culmination of a project begun by the Royal Canadian Legion, the tomb was added to the war memorial in 2000 as part of the Canada Millennium Partnership Programme and holds the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier who died in France during World War I. The soldier was selected from a cemetery in the vicinity of Vimy, the site of a famous Canadian battle where Canadian troops fought as a combined force.

The remains of the soldier buried there were exhumed on the morning of May 16, 2000, and the coffin was flown in a Canadian Forces aircraft to Ottawa on May 25, accompanied by a 45-person guard of honour, a chaplain, Royal Canadian Legion veterans, and two representatives of Canadian youth. In Ottawa, the Unknown Soldier lay in state for three days in the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

On the afternoon of May 28, the body of the Unknown Soldier was transported to the National War Memorial on a horse-drawn Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) gun carriage. The Governor General, and the Prime Minister, as well as veterans, Canadian Forces personnel, and members of the RCMP were in the funeral cortege. Then, with full military honours before a crowd of 20,000, the body, in a silver maple casket, was re-interred in a sarcophagus in front of the war memorial. Legionnaires placed a handful of soil from each of Canada’s provinces and territories, as well as from the soldier’s former grave site, on the casket before the tomb was sealed.

The tomb is intended to honour the approximately 116,000 Canadians who died in combat, as well as all members of the Canadian Armed Forces—in all branches—who died or may die in all conflicts, past, present, and future.

The tomb has become a focal point at all commemorative events at the National War Memorial.

The original headstone of the Unknown Soldier is the sole artifact and the focal point of Memorial Hall in the Canadian War Museum. The hall was designed in such a way that sunlight will only frame the headstone once each year on the 11th of November at 11:00 am.

At the former burial site of the Unknown Soldier, a grave marker similar to the other headstones in the Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery was placed at the now-empty grave. It is inscribed with these words in both French and English:

ON 25 MAY 2000 AND NOW

The Royal Canadian Legion leadership pronounced that the tomb deserved a military or police guard as a symbol of respect and to protect it from vandalism and desecration. These demands were brought into focus on the night of July 1, 2006, when Dr. Michael Pilon, a retired Canadian Forces major, photographed three young men urinating on the war memorial shortly after the annual Canada Day fireworks show over nearby Parliament Hill. In the summer of 2007, the sentry programme was instituted.

On October 22, 2014, a gunman armed with a rifle shot at the sentries on duty at the tomb, fatally wounding Corporal Nathan Cirillo of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise), before proceeding across the street and into the Centre Block on nearby Parliament Hill.. There, the gunman was killed in a firefight by then Sergeant-at-Arms of the

House of Commons.  Truly a reminder of the tragedy of violence.


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