One man’s vision for an empty patch of green space along Memorial Drive N.W. has resulted in a one-of-a-kind tribute to the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers.
Since 2008, a field of approximately 3,100 crosses appears each year in the weeks prior to Remembrance Day in a grassy area just west of Calgary’s Centre Street Bridge. Each cross represents a southern Alberta who lost their life while serving their country.
The idea originated in 2008 when Murray McCann, a retired businessman, noticed a row of crosses while driving along a highway in the state of Georgia.
Murray McCann and David Howard walk through the sea of crosses
“It confused me at the time,” recollects McCann. “I slowed down and then I noticed the names and the wars they lost their lives in, the soldiers.”
“I was overwhelmed. In fact, I pulled over because I couldn’t drive anymore. It was like they (the soldiers) rose up and spoke to me.”
McCann’s emotional response to the crosses stayed with him when he returned to Calgary.
“I talked to a very good friend, George Bittman, who headed up the Calgary Poppy Fund,” said McCann. “I told him of my experience and that I would like to do something along those lines in Calgary.”
McCann says the reaction of Calgarians to the Field of Crosses, funded by the McCann Family Foundation, echoes his experience in Georgia.
Each cross bears a name, with one exception. A lone cross has been erected for the unknown soldier.
Crosses for soldiers of the Jewish faith include a Star of David and American flags have been placed on the crosses of Americans who joined the Canadian Army during the First World War
McCann says response from city hall, the Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Fire Department has been overwhelmingly supportive from the get-go.
David Howard and his company, The Event Group, help organize the building of the temporary monument each year. Howard says Murray McCann is the man who brought the project to fruition.
“He came up with the concept, brought it back to Calgary and that’s inspiring in itself,” said Howard. “We have a lot of soldiers from southern Alberta that lost their lives, they put themselves in the line and Murray’s made it a mandate to recognize these soldiers.”
“I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
The 2014 sea of crosses includes two monuments recognizing the contributions of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, servicemen who lost their lives this past October on Canadian soil.
For all he’s done to give Calgarians a unique venue to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our country, Murray McCann is this week’s Inspiring Albertan.
With files from CTV’s Darrel Janz