St. Albert students made sure there was no stone left alone this week as part of a national movement to honour Canada’s war dead.
About 400 W.D. Cuts students were at the St. Albert municipal cemetery Monday morning to lay poppies on the graves of former soldiers and police officers. Vincent J. Maloney and Bertha Kennedy students performed similar acts at the Mission Hill cemetery.
These symbolic acts were organized by the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation, which for eight years has had thousands of youths across Canada visit war graves in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.
“The intent is to remember those who have gone before,” said Bob Fagan, past president of the St. Albert Royal Canadian Legion and the city’s co-ordinator for No Stone Left Alone.
This year’s ceremony was particularly significant as Canada approaches the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War on Nov. 11, 1918, Fagan noted.
“That was supposed to be the war to end all wars, and it wasn’t,” he noted, as the Second World War, the Korean and the Afghanistan wars all followed it.
“It’s important to remember (the war), because for some reason, we don’t seem to learn from previous experiences.”
Enduring frigid winds and blowing snow, the W.D. Cuts students worked with RCMP and military members to position wreathes and place poppies on the headstones of the roughly 75 soldiers and police officers buried in the cemetery.
Grade 7 student Cameron Mason was one of a handful of military history scholars who displayed posters about specific soldiers in the cemetery during the ceremony.
Mason said he had researched the life of Gordon Frederick Wade (1921-2014), who served with the 404 Squadron during the Second World War.
“He is one of the reasons we’re all here today and living the way we are,” he said, and it was important to remember the service of those like him.
Lois Love said she was at Monday’s ceremony to honour those who served in the war, including her great-uncle, who survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Love said soldiers like her great-uncle would have had to endure horrendous mud, noise and shelling during that conflict.
“I just cannot imagine what they went through.”
Roughly 63 St. Albert residents served in the First World War, with 10 killed during it, said Vino Vipulanantharajah of the Musée Héritage Museum. His research suggests there are at least two First World War veterans buried in the Mission Hill cemetery: Patrick William Benoit of St. Albert and Edmonton’s Laurent Gagnon.
Benoit was working as a labourer in Morinville when he signed up, Vipulanantharajah said. He worked for the railway after the first war, and lived with his wife Mary Rowland and their nine kids in the house next to the old brick school that once stood on Mission Hill. The St. Albert Historical Society’s Black Robe’s Vision reports that he also served as a recruiter in the Second World War.
Gagnon was a farmer and one of four Gagnon brothers to serve in the war, Vipulanantharajah said. He perished soon after the war in a workplace accident at a brickyard.
The St. Albert Remembrance Day parade starts at 10:40 a.m. this Sunday downtown, with the formal ceremony following at the cenotaph on St. Anne Street at 11. Visit bit.ly/2PERpom for details.