(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

Sunday marks the 100 year anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War.

The ceasefire was signed in November 1918 and news of the war’s end was quickly and widely celebrated throughout the British Empire.

World War One was known at the time as “the war to end all wars” and when the Germans finally surrendered, British Prime Minister Lloyd George optimistically stated, “I hope we can say that thus, this fateful morning, came an end to all wars.”

We celebrate Armistice Day, now known as Remembrance Day, to honour the brave men who fought and died to preserve our freedom and our way of life. This despite the sad truth that WWI — a devastating war that left some 40 million dead, including approximately 61,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force — was far from the end of all war.

Less than two decades later, the world found itself engulfed in another catastrophic world war that required millions more to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the spread of fascism and to protect freedom and democracy worldwide.

In 1921, the Royal British Legion created a campaign called the Poppy Appeal, based on John McCrae’s 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ to raise money in support of injured veterans and their families.

The bright red poppy was seen as a symbol of inspiration; the blood-red wildflower grew in the French and Belgian fields that were ripped apart by tanks and artillery and devastated by human carnage during the war.

The poppy represented new life and hope.

My great-grandfather was killed in these fields in 1915, leaving behind his wife and young children in Vancouver, B.C.

The poppy lives on, as a small token of our appreciation to those who did not hesitate to risk everything to protect the things they loved the most.

Remarkably, many Canadians today are ignorant of our past and unaware of just how lucky we are to live in a free and democratic society.

A new survey from Ancestry.com found 56% of Canadians polled could not point out the significance of this year’s Remembrance Day anniversary.

Only 46% of Canadians expect to observe a moment of silence on November 11 and only 59% will buy and wear a poppy, down from 70% in 2017.

While 91% of respondents in Alberta and the Atlantic provinces plan on commemorating Remembrance Day, only 80% will nationwide, down from 86% last year.

Among younger Canadians, only 72% of people under the age of 35 said they will attend a Remembrance Day event.

That’s not good enough.

Canadians across civil society, including in our schools, churches, community centers and amongst new Canadians, need to take the lead in ensuring this tradition is passed onto future generations.

Freedom is not free, it requires constant vigilance and an understanding of how we came to be the freest and most prosperous civilization in human history.

One hundred years ago, it required a generation of young men to sacrifice everything in order to protect their families back home and ensure freedom and security for future generations.

We’d be remiss if we failed to understand our history and traditions as Canadians, part of which is to spend a few hours each year honouring the military heroes who fought and died so that we would never have to be exposed to the horrors of war.

It’s the very least we can do. Lest we forget.

Candice Malcolm is the Founder of the True North Initiative 

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