The commemoration of the First World War disrupted by the housing crisis

“It turned everything upside down for us.”

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A ceremony in memory of veterans of the First World War started late, Sunday in Verdun, when the site around the cenotaph was invaded by a demonstration against the housing crisis.

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

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

The event was supposed to start at 2 p.m., but the area was overrun with protesters who began converging on the nearby Verdun metro at 1 p.m., before marching to Arthur Therrien Park.

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

“It was quite overwhelming,” Kircoff said. “I saw people who didn’t stay for the ceremony. It turned everything upside down for us. … It is important to remember the veterans.

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Fannie Bertrand takes part in the demonstration for housing. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Marjolaine Deneault, coordinator of the Regroupement des Comités de Logement et Associations de Tenants du Québec, which organized the demonstration, was unaware of the commemoration of the Battle of Ypres.

“We were there to denounce the housing crisis, she said, to demand rent control and a rent register, and to fight against the rise in rents that we see everywhere in Quebec.

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

Ryan Hurley's 5-year-old niece Lily Lawton wanted to smell the flowers, not realizing they weren't real.
Ryan Hurley’s 5-year-old niece Lily Lawton wanted to smell the flowers, not realizing they weren’t 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. It is also sensitive to the housing crisis.

“My father and all my uncles are World War II 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 a 1920s initiative to allow veterans to buy affordable housing.

“I live in public veterans housing, which is now worth $1.4 million,” Downey said. “Tenants’ rights are very important in Verdun, with the rise of gentrification.

The convergence of the two events could have been better coordinated, according to Downey, but both are equally important. Aside from the late checkout, he was glad everything went well.

“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 commemorated the First World War Battle of Ypres at the Cenotaph in Verdun Memorial Park.
For 103 years, the Verdun Legion has commemorated the First World War Battle of Ypres at the Cenotaph in Verdun Memorial Park. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

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