By Jessica Lovell
It should make for a pretty picture: Rows of white granite grave markers, each with its own wreath of winter greenery adorned with a single red bow.
This vision will be realized at Woodlawn Memorial Park with a special veterans recognition program set to start this year on Dec. 1.
“I think it’s going to be very special,” says Woodlawn cemetery counsellor Ceska Brennan.
Building on the Wreaths Across America idea that in its first year saw 5,000 evergreen wreaths marking the graves of veterans at Arlington Cemetery in the U.S., Woodlawn will mark the 180 graves in its two veterans’ areas as a way of honouring and remembering local veterans.
The idea is not new to Canada. Last year, Wreaths Across Canada marked the grave of every veteran at the National Military Cemetery at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, with the hope that the idea would spread to military cemeteries across the country.
This is the first year that the Woodlawn cemetery will take part, but the plan is to turn it into an annual project that would happen each year with a ceremony on the first Saturday in December, says Brennan. “It’s going to be beautiful,” Brennan says of wreaths adorning veteran graves.
The wreaths will be real juniper, which is expected to last throughout the winter season. A small group of volunteers has stepped forward and offered to tie the bows on them, says Brennan.
The wreaths will cost about $3,600, but with help from local Second World War veteran Bill Winegard, that sum has already been raised.
“It doesn’t pay to be a friend of mine,” laughs Winegard.
When Brennan approached him during his usual walk through the cemetery grounds and asked him to help with the fundraising, he knew he would have no trouble finding people who wanted to support the cause of honouring veterans.
“I think the closeness of the Afghan war has had a big effect on people,” says Winegard.
As the coffins of those killed in Afghanistan returned to Canada, people lined the bridges over the highway to show their respect as the hearses went by.
If a similar rite had been observed during the Second World War, there would have been 120 hearses per day throughout the length of the war, Winegard says, attempting to put into perspective the contributions of those veterans.
“I think in general, we’ve probably never made enough of our veterans’ graves wherever they are,” he says.
This year, the Dec. 1 decoration service will be the only service at the cemetery honouring veterans, as there will be no Remembrance Day service at Woodlawn, says Brennan.
The cemetery made the decision not to hold its Nov. 11 ceremony this year because the day falls on a Sunday, she says.
“We didn’t want to ask people to make a choice between this ceremony and their place of worship,” she explains.
For the Dec. 1 decoration service, the cemetery is planning a short, 20-minute service, to begin at 11 a.m. Most of the wreaths will already have been placed when people arrive, so they can appreciate the visual effect, says Brennan.
When the service is over, those who would like to help will be directed to the Second World War veterans’ section, where the graves are marked by flat markers, and wreaths will be handed out for helpers to put on the graves, she says.
The cemetery would like to see the graves of other veterans – those that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery in family plots – marked with wreaths as well. Families will be able to buy a wreath to be placed on their loved-one’s grave for $20.
And though the fundraising is done for this year, in order to turn it into an annual event, the cemetery will have to fundraise again or secure corporate sponsorship.
Those interested in supporting the initiative or purchasing a wreath are asked to contact Brennan at 519-822-1271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.