It’s early morning Remembrance Day and 91-year-old Robert Ryan is already up and getting ready for the special day.
Ryan knows he’ll be playing a prominent role in the ceremonies as it is expected that he would be the only Second World War veteran at the North Sydney service.
At the same time on the same street just a few short blocks toward town, a group of volunteers has been working in the kitchen of the Royal Canadian Legion branch 19. In fact, they’ve been there since before 7 a.m. cooking and preparing for the annual veterans’ breakfast they host each year before the kickoff of the day’s events.
“It was started years ago by some of the older veterans and we’ve just kept it going — I’ve been working this breakfast for the past 25 years,” said breakfast co-ordinator Alaine Taylor, the branch’s poppy campaign treasurer, who was one about 15 volunteers who collaborated to feed dozens of veterans, firefighters, their families and friends.
“We love to give them a good breakfast to fuel them for the day — it’s a big day and we know they appreciate the breakfast very much.”
In the meantime, Ryan has made his way down Archibald Street and is sitting with a number of fellow legion members. A smile spreads across his face when asked how he enjoyed his breakfast.
“Oh, it was very good — we have a real good bunch of people here that really look after us,” said the nonagenarian, who grew up in Mulgrave but moved to North Sydney when his crane operating job was eliminated following the completion of the Canso Causeway.
If you do the math you’ll figure out that Ryan, who was born in 1928, was a mere teenager when he joined the merchant marine that plied the dangerous, U-boat-infested waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
While others lost their lives, he survived. And he was joined at this year’s North Sydney Remembrance Day service by three subsequent generations represented by his daughter Roberta MacBurnie, grandson Ryan MacBurnie and great-granddaughter Brielle MacBurnie.
Due to the threat of rain, event organizers opted to cancel the pre-service parade and moved the entire non-denominational service and ceremony to the nearby St. John’s Anglican Church. And, by the time the service began there was hardly a spare pew seat to be found as an estimated 400 people jammed into the church to offer up their respects to those who served their country.
The ceremony included all the elements of Remembrance Day services held in communities across Canada. The first wreath was laid by the legion’s Silver Cross Mother Raylene MacKinnon. The second of the many wreaths to be laid was by none other than Robert Ryan, recognized as the only Second World War veteran to attend the North Sydney service.
Afterwards, Ryan was one of the last to leave.
It had already been a long day and, besides, the volunteers back at the legion would already have the soup heated up and ready to be served to the hungry veterans, their families and friends.