On Thursday, Nov. 5, a special tradition to remember the fallen continued.
No Stone Left Alone started with one family and has now grown into an effort to ensure every fallen soldier is remembered with a poppy. It is now in its 10th year.
For 2020, No Stone Left Alone ceremonies looked different than in previous years.
Wreaths of Remembrance were still laid at Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton, the birthplace of NSLA.
There was also a live solo performance of the national anthem and a traditional flyover.
Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was not open to the public. However, various officials, family members and veterans and their loved ones spoke virtually or in pre-taped segments. Comments were shared from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and other officials.
Veteran Don White and his daughter shared letters and personal experiences of war, including archival photos and video.
“Don’t ever forget and always remember,” White said.
“And do me one favour: always keep Nov. 11 as a Remembrance Day. It’s not a holiday; it’s Remembrance Day.”
Students from across Canada took part virtually by reading poems, including In Flanders Fields, and reciting pledges. Video of other students reading their Reflection Letters was shared.
Maureen Bianchini-Purvis, founder of the initiative, was joined by her family to lay poppies on every headstone at Beechmount Cemetery.
Sherry Clark with Families of the Fallen, whose son Joel died while serving with the PPCLI in Afghanistan, spoke at the service.
“Virtually or in person, another soldier is being remembered,” she said of NSLA. “Here in Canada, thousands upon thousands are paying tribute.”
“Thirteen years have passed since we heard his laughter or felt his hugs.
“For me personally, knowing someone is remembering, saying his name… helps to get us through these very difficult days. Most importantly, we know he’s not forgotten.”
In honour of the 10 years, a symbolic oak tree was planted at the Edmonton cemetery, similar to one that stands in Vimy, France.
Read more: No Stone Left Alone remembrance ceremonies
Global News is proud to partner with the No Stone Left Alone Foundation that serves to honour the sacrifice and service of Canada’s military by educating students and placing poppies on the headstones of veterans every November.
NSLA Commemorations take place across Canada. But to ensure the health and safety of all involved, students participated from their classrooms in various ways; making a wreath to be laid by volunteers in their cemetery, participating in a virtual discussion with a veteran via video conferencing, or creating a “Remembrance Wall” where they lay poppies in honour of their community’s veterans.
The project is a personal passion for foundation president Maureen Bianchini-Purvis. The daughter of two Second World War veterans, she promised her dying mother that she would not be forgotten on Remembrance Day. Year after year, she visited her mother’s grave at Beechmount, laying a poppy in remembrance, and continuing the tradition with her own children.
When her daughters noticed the many graves in the Field of Honour that lay bare, the idea for No Stone Left Alone was born.
“I remember being a young child and standing at my grandmother’s headstone and since it’s on the other side of the cemetery, you look out at this vast grouping of hundreds and hundreds of headstones and I said, ‘Mom, why is it just us? Why is it only our grandparents that have a poppy? Don’t all these souls deserve to be recognized?'” Keely Yates said.
“I think it was profound for a 10-year-old to say. And she decided to run with it. And now, look where we are 10 years later.”
Today, the non-profit organization works with the military, volunteer committees, students and Alberta educators.
Students, typically in junior high, place the poppies, and learn about the sacrifices made by Canada’s veterans, and those who still serve today.
Since the first ceremony in 2011, the concept spread across Edmonton, then across Alberta, and now across the country.
“We have countless people come up to say how beautiful and important it is to have their loved one remembered,” Sara McNeil said.
“Often times people pass away and it’s only through their immediate family that they live on but now there is an entire new generation of children that are coming and reading that family member’s name and bringing them back to life and how important that is for them.
“Now, each year seeing a field of red is so impactful and beautiful and knowing that something so simple has really hit home to so many people across Canada and across the world,” McNeil added.
“It’s inspiring and we’re so proud.”