Field of Crosses a way for Calgarians to remember those fought for Canada

Field of red: Diane Dallarie walks through the Field of Crosses and pays her respects to the many soldiers who lost their lives in Canada’s world wars. (Photo by Kelsey Eng/The Press)

After a horrific war in 1918, the bodies were buried. Not long after, covering the graves of fallen soldiers, were blood-red flowers.

The appearance of these flowers wasn’t an accident. During the war the soils of northern France became rich in lime, from all of the remains buried there. After the war had finally ended, the lime gave the poppies a chance to thrive.

For Canadians, a poppy is not only a significant way to remember fallen heroes. It’s also a way to give back to the families and veterans who have  paid the true price of war.

“It really helps to memorialize the true impact of the war,” said Gabrielle Pyska, whose great grandfather served in Poland in the Second World War. “My great grandma had eight children that she was taking care of by herself, while he was in the middle of the war.”

The government of Canada’s Veterans Affairs website states that in 1920, Anna Guérin, after being inspired by Moina Michael’s pledge to wear a poppy in remembrance of the fallen soldiers in 1918, had the idea of making artificial poppies and selling them. This idea was to raise money for the benefit of orphaned children and others who suffered as a result of the war.

“You’re not living in a war, you’re living somewhere peaceful and happy,” Pyska said. “A lot of people gave their lives for that.”

Nov. 11, 1918, marks the end of hostilities in World War I, though the war was not officially concluded until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June, 1919. Now, Nov. 11, is a day used to remember those that fought for Canada.

Zachary Poole, who grew up hearing stories about family members who served, said he tries to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony every year.

“I think that it’s a helpful method of grieving those that we’ve lost,” he said.

“I don’t think it should be the only day that they are remembered, but a day of public grieving just sort of helps.”

A field of crosses was first set up along Memorial Drive in Calgary in 2010. According to the event website, the Field of Crosses mission is to assure that present and future generations never forget the men and women who “gave their tomorrows for our today.”

“I think the argument of ‘wearing a poppy isn’t a lot to ask’ is relevant,” added Poole. “There are a lot of sacrifices that were made for Canada.”

Anne Hodgson, a local teacher in Calgary, was fortunate enough to attend a field trip with her school, to Bény-sur-Mer, the Canadian war cemetery in France.

Hodgson and all of the others on the trip were each assigned a solider to research and find in the cemetery before they went. She was given John Robinson.

Quietly resting: Private John Robinson’s cross, with markers for the other brave Canadian men and women who fought for their country, in Calgary’s Field of Crosses  in November, 2020. (Photo by Kelsey Eng/The Press)

“Two years ago, I found his cross, I rushed home and printed a photo of his actual grave and hung it on his cross (in Calgary),” Hodgson said. “They laminated the photo and hung it on his cross.”

For many, the Field of Crosses is an excellent way to put into perspective the events of the wars and the sacrifices that  Canadian men and women made to give us today. The Field of Crosses will be available to see from Nov. 1-11, on Memorial Drive N.W., just west of the Centre Street Bridge. Donations can be made at the Field of Crosses website.

“I feel like every year more people skip over Remembrance Day and go straight to Christmas,” added Pyska. “We can’t live our lives in a way where we avoid the hurt and sadness of our history.”

Teaching moment: Patrick McKay and son Fletcher, walk through the Field of Crosses and discuss the memorial. (Photo by Kelsey Eng/The Press)