A Powerful Evocation: The Act of Remembrance

Each year for Remembrance Day, Commissionaires develops a creative piece to honour the memory of those who died in service to Canada, and thank those who served and continue to serve.

This year’s concept highlights the Canadian War Museum’s Memorial Hall, where a single artifact stands as a symbol of sacrifice and remembrance — the Tombstone of the Unknown Soldier.

Origins of the 2023 Commissionaires Remembrance Art

In May 2000, the remains of a Canadian soldier, unknown by name or rank, who had been buried at the Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery in France, was repatriated to Ottawa. They were buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial.

At the request of Parliament, the tombstone that had marked the soldier’s grave for over 80 years became the focus of the new Canadian War Museum’s Memorial Hall. Famed Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama designed this space specifically to house the tombstone.

Sunlight streams through the hall’s single window casting light on this symbol of Canada’s fallen just once each year – at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This moment recognizes the 1918 Armistice that ended hostilities during the First World War.

Sunlight illuminating the tombstone of the Unknown Soldier in the Memorial Hall 
Canadian War Museum 

Commissionaires’ relationship with the Canadian War Museum has allowed for many opportunities to see the Tombstone of the Unknown Soldier. The meaningful symbolism inspired our 2023 Remembrance Day concept, and brought to mind the phrase “We Will Remember Them.” This expression holds significance for two reasons, one of which is its origin in the poem “For the Fallen” by English poet and scholar Laurence Binyon.

Binyon was 45 years old at the outbreak of the First World War and was considered too old to enlist in the armed forces, so instead, he worked for the Red Cross as a medical orderly. Binyon lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war. He wrote his poem “For the Fallen” to pay tribute to the members of the British Expeditionary Force who died in their first encounters with the German Army in the summer and autumn of 1914. The poem was first published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914.

The fourth stanza of “For the Fallen” forms the Act of Remembrance, which is recited in English, French and an Indigenous language, if possible, at every Remembrance Day service. The final line of the fourth stanza, “We will remember them,” is echoed by all in attendance. The Act of Remembrance is one of the most important ways we honour the fallen.

“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.”

For the Fallen, Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Commissionaires National Board Chair, Gord Winkel, noted: “For me, this year’s Remembrance Day artwork is incredibly powerful, because the light illuminating the headstone evokes my memory of the powerful ending lines, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

You can watch the illumination of the Tombstone of the Unknown Soldier in Memorial Hall on November 11 at 11 a.m. on the Canadian War Museum’s website.