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Local businessman funds 'field of crosses' for Remembrance Day

Kadri thumbOn Friday, Nov. 4, officials from the Calgary Poppy Fund and the United States paid their respects to the American veterans who fought and died alongside Canadian forces.

For the past three years, the Calgary Poppy Fund has displayed a field of crosses to honor Alberta's fallen war veterans on Memorial Drive between the Calgary Curling Club and the Center Street Bridge.

One of the attendees was Laura Lochman, U.S. Consul General for Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

"I participated in this ceremony last year as well," said Lochman, "and it's just a wonderful commemoration of those who died, both American and Canadian, serving with Canadians to protect our freedoms."

The field of crosses began in 2009 as an attempt to replicate Flanders Fields, and to remind people to pay their respects to the local soldiers who died at war.

CrossesNearly 3,000 white crosses now line Memorial Drive between the Calgary Curling Club and the Centre Street Bridge to honour the thousands of Canadians who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. The crosses will stay standing through Remembrance Day until Nov. 12, and flags will be raised by veterans each day at dawn.

Photo by: Riad Kadri
The Calgary display can be seen from the Center Street Bridge and draws curiosity from passers-by.

George Bittman, past chairman of the Calgary Poppy Fund, organizes the project, but the idea to start the project itself was given to him by local businessman Murray McCann while he attended a Veterans Day event in the United States in 2009.

When asked by McCann why the Calgary Poppy Fund didn't put up crosses for Alberta's war dead, Bittman replied, "We just can't do it with Poppy Fund money."

McCann now funds the project.

This year the field holds 2,720 crosses, each with a soldier's name, age, rank, service and date of death written across it.

The ceremony on Nov. 4 began at sunrise as snow began to fall and traffic quickly became congested.

As the sun rose, an elementary school choir sang the American national anthem, and musicians played the bagpipes and trumpets while flags for Canada and the United States were raised one by one.

There weren't many people in attendance, but military musician Mark Paidra said, "I think the important thing with this event is all the people driving to work see the crosses and see this thing going on."

The display of crosses will remain in place until Nov. 12, and flag-raising ceremonies will take place every day at dawn.