Calgarians pay tribute as they prepare Field of Crosses for Remembrance Day

Paying Tribute: Crosses fill Sunnyside Bank Park in Calgary on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Hundreds of volunteers gathered at the Field of Crosses to set up more than 3,400 crosses to honour fallen southern Alberta soldiers. (Photo by Samantha Gryba/The Press)

Hundreds of Calgarians gathered at Sunnyside Bank Park on Memorial Drive in Calgary, on Oct. 27th, to assemble the Field of Crosses, a memorial established to honour fallen southern Albertans.

The Field of Crosses was created 10 years ago, by Calgary businessman Murray McCann. The memorial takes place from Nov. 1st, to Nov. 11th and is concluded by a traditional ceremony on Remembrance Day, at 11 a.m.

There are 3,400 crosses in the installation, displaying names of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and nurses, all from southern Alberta who died.

The crosses honour those who served in wars including World War I, World War II, The Boer War, The Korean War, and The Afghanistan War, among others.

“There is well over 100 volunteers today, and you can see how respectful they are when they’re doing this,” said Field of Crosses executive director Thomas Leppard in an interview.

“It’s very quiet, people are somber, because the reality of what you’re doing is you’re paying tribute to these young people who were killed. It’s very, very powerful.”

This is a significant year for Canada, because it marks the 100-year anniversary since the end of the First World War.

The ceremony on Remembrance Day will feature three field guns from the Canadian artillery, which will fire a 21-gun salute at 11 a.m., signaling the start of the remembrance, and also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Leppard said 1,500 of the crosses in the field are from the First World War. This had devastating effects on the City of Calgary, whose population at the time was 60,000. Approximately 1,000 young Calgarians were lost.

“Their families never saw them again. They’re scattered all over the world,” Leppard said.

“But here is where we bring them home and say thank you, so it’s a powerful tribute.”

Rob Zimich, a captain with the Calgary Fire Department and a past pipe major of the pipes and drums band, was one of the volunteers who showed up to assist with the set-up of the crosses.

“We’re honoured to get to come here and not just represent the pipe band, but the fire fighters, as well as EMS, and the police. There’s a big brother hood, and sisterhood between police, fire, medics, and the veterans and active members in the military,” Zimich said in an interview.

“We feel it’s something we should do, and we want to do.”

Dan McLean, a retired captain from the Royal Canadian Air Force, who served 23 years as an air navigator during the height of the cold war, tracking Soviet nuclear submarines, was another volunteer who dedicated his time Saturday morning to assemble the crosses.

McLean comes from a family of military service, with a father who served as a Chief Warrant Officer, Sergeant Major in the Royal Canadian Army for 42 years, and a brother who served in the infantry.

“For us, it’s like a flash mob, it’s very impactful. We have the crosses up before the first of November, and then we take them down on the 12th of November, they’re gone. Much like these people’s lives,” McLean said in an interview.

“When someone comes here and walks through, you look and you see 1916, you see 1942, you see 2006, you see 1997. You realize that Canadians have been volunteering and doing this for a long time, and they’re still doing it right up to the present day.”

Leppard said volunteers have been preparing for this installation for this past month. The crosses have been cleaned, and organized, holes have been drilled into the ground, spikes have been placed, all in preparation for public viewing.

You can tell by the number of people that are here, all ages, giving up their time to make this happen every year, It’s a pretty amazing community project. – Thomas Leppard

The community has been eager to help. Leppard said they were even approached several times throughout the day by people passing through, offering to help.

“You can tell by the number of people that are here, all ages, giving up their time to make this happen every year, It’s a pretty amazing community project,” Leppard said.

“If you talk to them, many of them have a connection. A father, a grandfather, some even have a relative whose name is here. For others, they just come out to pay tribute. It’s a pretty amazing project and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Sunrise and sunset ceremonies begin on November 1st at the Field of Crosses, and continues on until Nov. 11th, with the last ceremony taking place on Remembrance Day at 11 a.m.

About Samantha Gryba 4 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Samantha Gryba is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.