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Backgrounder / June 11, 2019 / Project number: ncr-bg-19-ceremonial-guard

June 2019


The Ceremonial Guard was established in 1959 by the Canadian Army (CA) on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to plan, prepare and execute Public Duties in the National Capital Region (NCR) during the summer, and has become an icon of Ottawa and the CAF during the summer season.

A sub-unit of the Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG), the Ceremonial Guard includes members from the Regular and Reserve Forces of the CA.

Membership in the Ceremonial Guard is one of the many ways that the CA is guaranteeing Reservists full-time summer employment from May to August, offering them the opportunity to act as ambassadors of the CA and demonstrate their excellence throughout the NCR.

Currently serving members who are interested in joining the Ceremonial Guard should contact their chain of command. Those not currently serving should contact their nearest recruiting centre.

Ceremonial Guard uniforms

The members of the Ceremonial Guard are instantly recognizable in their distinctive red tunics and bearskin hats.

Although they come from many different military units, members of the Ceremonial Guard uphold the individual traditions of two of Canada’s Guards regiments, the GGFG of Ottawa, and the Canadian Grenadier Guards (CGG) of Montreal.

Both regiments wear the bearskin hat, which was first adopted by the British Grenadier Guards in 1815 and later adopted by all Guards regiments in 1831. The regiments are easily distinguishable by the coloured plumes on their bearskin hats: red for the GGFG and white for the CGG.

Training of the Ceremonial Guard

Upon arrival in Ottawa, members undergo training – including music rehearsals, inspections, and foot and rifle drills – leading up to the start of Public Duties. Members undergo continual fitness training in order to handle the rigours of their physically demanding duties.

Public Duties in the National Capital Region

Public Duties include:

  • The Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill;
  • Internments for our Fallen comrades;
  • Sentry duties at Rideau Hall;
  • Sentry duties at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier;
  • Ceremonial guards of honour for visiting dignitaries;
  • Fortissimo, Ottawa’s spectacular military and musical event of the season;
  • Military musical performances at a number of events in the region; and
  • Public Duties in the NCR.

The Changing of the Guard ceremony

Performed daily on the lawns of Parliament Hill in Ottawa during the summer, the Changing of the Guard ceremony is the most recognized military tradition in Canada.

2019 marks the 61st season of this famous ceremony, which will begin on the East Lawn of Parliament Hill at 10 a.m. on June 23 and continues daily until August 24.

Sentry Duties at Rideau Hall

Members of the Ceremonial Guard perform daily sentry duties at Rideau Hall, which is the official residence and workplace of the Governor General of Canada.

For the 2019 season, sentries at Rideau Hall are changed every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from June 23 and until August 24.

Sentry Duties at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Ceremonial Guard provides training and oversight to CAF members performing sentry duties at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the National Sentry Program (NSP).

In May 2000, the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier who died in the First World War were repatriated from France and, with great ceremony, buried in a special tomb in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa, which is our most iconic and visible reminder of the service and sacrifice of members of the CAF.

The Tomb was created to honour the more than 116,000 Canadians who have sacrificed their lives in the cause of peace and freedom as well as those who have contributed to Canada’s long-standing tradition of military excellence through to the present day.

The sentries reinforce public awareness that the Tomb is to be treated with dignity, tribute and respect.

Mounting of sentries at the Tomb in July and August began in 2007. In 2014, the NSP’s duties were expanded to operate between April 9 and November 10 each year until 2020 with a rotation of sentries from the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Special Operations Command. April 9 is significant because it marks the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War in which about 100,000 Canadians participated and approximately 11,000 became casualties, nearly 3,600 of these fatal.

Sentries from associated units, ships, squadrons, branches and corps will also commemorate significant military anniversaries throughout the year at the Tomb.

For the 2019 Public Duties season, sentries will be posted at the Tomb from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from April 9 until November 10.

2019 Canada Day celebrations

There will be no Changing of the Guard ceremony on June 25 to July 2 inclusive when the Ceremonial Guard will once again proudly take part in celebrations on Parliament Hill commemorating Canada Day.

Fortissimo – a military and musical spectacular event

Fortissimo is a military and musical spectacular event performed on the lawns of Parliament Hill during the summer season that prominently features the Ceremonial Guard. It includes massed military bands, bagpipes and drums and guest performances from around the world. It is a showcase event in the Nation's Capital that has drawn thousands of spectators since the first performance in 1997.

Fortissimo is based on two traditional evening routines – ­the Retreat and the Tattoo – that were once carried out daily by soldiers to signal the day’s end and that night fortifications were in place.

The routines involve the firing of evening guns, drum beats calling marching soldiers back to barracks, the lowering of the flag, bugle calls to signal that sentries were in place and the playing of popular music, hymns and the national anthem as the sun set and darkness gathered.

The Public Duties season includes this event, which will take place at 7 p.m. from July 18 to 20, 2019 on Parliament Hill. There will also be a full dress rehearsal open to the public at 7 p.m. on July 17, 2019.

Associated Links

Canadian Army Links

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