Date: Oct 31, 2023
By Kevin Fleming CTV News Calgary Video Journalist
Thousands of white crosses are set up along Memorial Drive just west of the Centre Street Bridge, each bearing the name of a fallen soldier from southern Alberta.
Susan Schalin, the president and CEO of Field of Crosses, said more than 400 volunteers have worked to create the memorial.
“We have 3,500 crosses of fallen that we are recognizing from southern Alberta,” she said. “Plus we have 120 crosses, signifying the 120,000 war dead all over Canada, so we have 3,620 crosses.”
Schalin says she didn’t know much about Remembrance Day prior to 2009 when the Field of Crosses was established by Murray McCann. But now, she says she becomes more and more passionate about it every year.
“What really touches me is when I meet members of the family who have fallen in the field,” said Schalin. “And I meet serving members and it just makes me appreciate so much what they’ve done.”
Work started in September for volunteers to clean and repair all the crosses. In mid-October, another team of volunteers, headed by Jordan Nolan, was measuring out and installing all the bases for the crosses by drilling holes into the ground in a grid pattern.
“I’ve got to give credit to the Third Cav, the Canadian Army veterans,” Nolan said. “They started this and laid the baseline, now come, we use the same baseline and the same techniques they taught us we just continue on with the same ways of doing it. We have chains that are measured at the specific distances to keep straight lines.”
Nolan is an Afghanistan veteran and current Calgary Police Service sergeant. He says it was hard to come to the Field of Crosses at first because he has friends he served with whose names are on them.
“I had to get past that and realize this wasn’t about me, this is about remembering their sacrifice,” he said. “And remembering the world that they wanted us to live in is what I now need to remember and enjoy, take time to honour that memory.”
Nolan says it makes him proud to see all the people come to view the crosses on the days leading up to Remembrance Day.
“I love it when I see children and youth coming,” Nolan said.
“I love it when parents bring their children here and they take time to read the bio cards and they learn about those soldiers that have given their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice for us and for the freedoms that we enjoy, I love seeing the younger generations come and take part in this.”
Mark Bertin is a retired police officer who spends his days volunteering for a number of initiatives. This year he’s responsible for the charity’s trailer and all the remote lights at the site. He says Remembrance Day holds a special place in his heart.
“My father-in-law was a World War Two vet, my dad was in the Cold War, 20 years in the Navy, my brother was 42 years in the Army, I was two years in the Air Force before the police,” he said. “I strongly believe it is our duty to remember and this is the epitome of that, especially for the 3,500 here in southern Alberta that crosses represent.”
Diane Barth has been volunteering for the last three years and helps out wherever she’s needed, including the grant writing team. Barth says the Field of Crosses is free to the public, but it costs a lot to put the memorial together.
“Our operating costs are over $300,000,” she said. “So we put out a lot of grant requests, a lot of grant applications to try to get some sponsorships and donations to help run our memorial.”
Barth says her father served in the military for 35 years and was also a UN peacekeeper. She says the crosses are important to her.
“It’s very heart-wrenching to see how many crosses there are,” she said.
“You can read on paper that we have over 3,500 crosses, but until you come here and you actually walk and walk and walk and see all these crosses and then you stop and each cross has a story, (like one) about a 21-year-old that lost their life so we could have our freedom, there’s so many young ones in this field and we have to remember lest we forget.”
Beginning in November, first sunrise and sunset ceremonies will be hosted at the site with various themes.
Learn more about the Field of Crosses Schedule and how to make a donation here: fieldofcrosses.com