Calgarian Jordan Witzel’s three-kilometre bike ride on Saturday was one of the first to kickstart the inaugural Field of Crosses Memorial Project fundraising campaign.

The “Exercise Freedom Together” campaign is the first of its kind to support the memorial, which honours more than 3,500 southern Alberta soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for Canadian freedoms.

Jordan Witzel (L) Director of the Field of Crosses, joins his wife Lindsey and two sons Slade and Beck in Calgary on Saturday, August 8, 2020 as they prep for a 3km bike ride to raise funds for the Field of Crosses. JIM WELLS / Postmedia

Locals are encouraged to bike, walk or run three kilometres and challenge others to do the same  donating $5 to the charity per challenge. Participants are also asked to share a photo of themselves, hand over their heart, with the hashtag #ExerciseFreedomTogether to encourage others to join and educate about Canadian military history.

Witzel, director of the Field of Crosses Memorial Project, said the community campaign comes at a unique time when Canadians are feeling a limit on their freedoms due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, as such, gives perspective on those who have fallen to protect those freedoms.

He said it’s about “all of us living through this pandemic and really starting to appreciate, on a deeper level, what our freedom is and that we’re all still together in all of this.”

“It may seem a little bit abstract to some people but all of those freedoms have been gained by being a leader in the world, a quiet leader as Canadians, and we still have our freedoms even though we have kind of suffered them a little bit in the pandemic,” said Witzel.

Hundreds of white crosses with the names of fallen soldiers are arranged in rows on Memorial Drive as part of the annual Field of Crosses memorial. Philanthropist Murray McCann began the project in 2009 and has since donated thousands of dollars and much of his time to ensure it goes off without a hitch each year.

Over 3600 candles created a moving scene at the Field of Crosses during a special sunset ceremony the day before Remembrance Day on Sunday November 10, 2019. It was the first year that candles were placed in front of each cross at the Field of Crosses. GAVIN YOUNG/Postmedia

On McCann’s 80th birthday, last September, he said, “if the Field of Crosses is going to reach its 100th anniversary 89 years from now, I need to do something to make it outlive me” and turned it into a registered charity.

The “Exercise Freedom Together” campaign is the first fundraising effort to ensure the legacy continues.

Witzel said the memorial is a “poignant and visible” reminder that stands for everything that has been lost but also everything that has been gained in those losses.

“If any of us have grown up and studied history, it does repeat itself if we don’t educate our own generation and generations after that there are ways to avoid major conflicts in our world,” he said. “So I think it is the most simple, quiet, graveyard-type reminder that there is a cost to fighting, to arguments, to things that really get carried away in our world and that’s especially important for our younger people.”

The fundraising effort kickstarted on Saturday and will run until Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

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