It was a tall order, but veterans at Parkwood Institute created 4,000 paper poppies Wednesday that will be used on the set of an upcoming production at the Grand Theatre.
Timothy Findlay’s The Wars opens Oct. 23 and follows a young soldier from Toronto into the battlefields of France. The Grand’s director of development, Suzanne Lanthier, said it was important to director Dennis Garnhum and set designer Allan Stichbury to get veterans involved in the production.
“We just thought it was a natural way to … open up the doors to the theatre even wider, and take the theatre out to the community,” she explained.
Dozens of veterans worked on the poppies, glueing shaped red muffin liners to each other and drawing a black dot in the middle. Some marked their handiwork with their names or the names of veterans they chose to remember.
“We have a real assembly line going,” said Tichelle Schram, who co-ordinates therapeutic recreation and the creative arts team at Parkwood’s Veterans Care Program.
“It’s a one-day project. The veterans are either coming down here, but for some of them who are unable to come today, we’re taking it up to their units and floors so they can work on it upstairs.”
A couple of hours in, Schram said there had been lots of smiles and laughter. She also noticed veterans opening up in conversations about poppies and what the poppy means to them.
“Let’s put it this way. Without the poppy, I don’t think the country would have been held together the way it is,” said 92-year-old veteran Lorne Spicer.
“I don’t see how we could be as proud of what we do without having done it for our country and the poppy.”
Spicer described being a navigator pilot during the Second World War and changing his birth documents so he could enlist before he was old enough. He said the poppy is a symbol of a “willingness to fight anything and everything to try to make Canada a free country.”
“We’re very proud of being Canadians.”
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The Grand’s production of The Wars acknowledges the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
“It really made complete sense for us to do this, to partner with the community, to partner with Parkwood, and to get as many people involved and excited about the show, and actually seeing what they’re going to be making up on stage eventually,” said Lanthier.
She couldn’t say much about how the thousands of poppies would be incorporated into the play but said they would be used towards the end of the narrative.
“As I think about it, as I know about it, I get goosebumps. I can tell you it’ll be an incredibly inspiring part of the show.”
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