First World War commemoration disrupted by housing crisis protest


“It messed everything up for us.”

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A ceremony to remember First World War veterans got off to a late start, Sunday in Verdun, when the site around the cenotaph was overrun by a protest against the housing crisis.

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For the past 103 years, people have come out to commemorate the sacrifices of those who fought in the Battle of Ypres, in Belgium.

“We lost a lot of Canadians,” said Stan Kircoff, president of Branch 4 of the Royal Canadian Legion, in Verdun. “We’re the only branch that celebrates the Battle of Ypres in Quebec, maybe in Canada.”

The event was scheduled to begin at 2 pm, but the area was overrun with protesters who began to converge at nearby Verdun métro at 1 pm, before marching to Arthur Therrien Park.

The ceremony was delayed by about 20 minutes, and the situation created a lot of confusion.

“It was quite upsetting,” Kircoff said. “I saw people who didn’t stay for the ceremony. It messed everything up for us. … It’s important to remember the veterans.”

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Fannie Bertrand participates in the housing protest.
Fannie Bertrand participates in the housing protest. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Marjolaine Deneault, coordinator of the Regroupement des committees logement et associations de locataires du Québec, which organized the protest, had not been aware of the Battle of Ypres commemoration.

“We were there to denounce the housing crisis,” she said, “to demand rent control and a registry of rents, and to fight the rise in rents we’re seeing everywhere in Quebec.”

Close to 300 people came from all over Quebec for the march, she noted.

Ryan Hurley's 5-year-old daughter Lily Lawton wanted to smell the flowers, not realizing they were not real.
Ryan Hurley’s 5-year-old daughter Lily Lawton wanted to smell the flowers, not realizing they were not real. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Sterling Downey understands both sides. The Verdun city councilor is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and attended the ceremony. He is also sensitive to the housing crisis.

“My father and all my uncles are Second World War Veterans, and my grandfather fought in both world wars,” he said. “My grandmother worked in munitions factories.”

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Downey is the third generation to live in his family home, sold to his grandfather as part of an initiative in the 1920s to allow veterans to buy housing at an affordable rate.

“I live in social housing for veterans, that today is worth $1.4 million,” Downey said. “Tenants’ rights are very important in Verdun, with the rise in gentrification.”

The convergence of the two events could have been better coordinated, according to Downey, but both are equally important. Besides from the late start, he was happy it all worked out.

“We let them do their thing, and they let us do ours,” he said. “And it was a beautiful ceremony.”

For 103 years, the Verdun Legion has been commemorating the First World War battle of Ypres at the cenotaph at Memorial Park in Verdun.
For 103 years, the Verdun Legion has been commemorating the First World War battle of Ypres at the cenotaph at Memorial Park in Verdun. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

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