Lest we forget, the more than 3,000 white crosses now on display along Memorial Drive aims to ensure that Calgarians remember the sacrifices of Southern Albertans in the fight for freedom. Now in its seventh year, the Field Of Crosses Memorial Project pays tribute to the men and women killed in service to this country over the past century. The Herald’s Doug Hintz shares five things to know about this solemn memorial.
The project was conceived by Calgary businessman Murray McCann in 2009 after he came across a similar display while driving through Georgia before Memorial Day in the U.S. Struck by the poignancy of that makeshift memorial, McCann consulted with his friend, the late George Bittman, who had served as head of the Calgary Poppy Fund, legion representatives and city officials, and the Field of Crosses Memorial Project was born.
A week ago, volunteers set the 3,200 crosses — each representing a Southern Alberta soldier killed in action — on stakes that had been installed at the site a week earlier. It took 200 volunteers with sledge hammers to drive the stakes through the river rock and shale below the grass at the site. It is estimated that more than 4,000 Southern Albertans were killed serving their country, and the number of crosses increases each year as more are identified.
Volunteers like Max Smith help put up crosses at the Field of Crosses project on Oct. 24, 2015. Christina Ryan / Calgary Herald
Each cross is inscribed with the soldier’s name, age at death, rank, regiment and date of death in conflicts over the past century. Conflicts and missions represented in the field begin with the Boer War, which began in 1899, through the First and Second World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam peacekeeping mission, United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Cyprus, and the Afghanistan War.
Each day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 11, a flag-raising ceremony takes place at sunrise, and the flags are lowered at sunset. Calgarians are invited to attend the ceremonies and to lay flowers or walk among the crosses in the two-hectare park along Memorial Drive between Centre Street and 3rd Street N.W. Public parking is available at the west end of the park. The crosses are removed after Remembrance Day, but a permanent cenotaph was installed at the site in September.
Debbie Henwood, right, and her mom Marion walk through the Field of Crosses along Memorial Drive on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. The annual memorial contains over 3,200 crosses honouring southern Albertans who died for Canada. Gavin Young / Calgary Herald
The project coincides with the Calgary Poppy Fund’s annual fundraising campaign and the Canadian Legacy Project’s veteran’s food drive, which this year has a $100,000 fundraising target.
“I don’t think there’s an excuse for our veterans who put their lives on the line to go hungry,” said Dave Howard, president of the Canadian Legacy Project, who noted that the number of veterans accessing the food bank is growing amid the economic downturn.