A memorial of 240 white crosses adjacent to the City Park Cenotaph in Kelowna will help mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice for the First World War Nov. 11.
The Kelowna branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Kelowna Rotary Club have joined forces to stage the white cross marker display to commemorate the lives of Okanagan residents who sacrificed their lives fighting for the Canadian Armed Forces in service to our country.
The crosses will reflect the names of each individual on the cenotaph, complete with their name, rank, age, when they died and battles they were involved in dating back to the First World War.
Each cross will also be adorned with a Canadian flag and silk poppy, and the display will be backlit at night with special lighting donated by Winn Rentals.
Rotarian Carol Eamer said she got the idea originally from a similar display of 3,000 crosses installed for the past decade at a park in that city’s Memorial Drive to recognize southern Albertans who were killed in action.
“In Calgary, what they do with the field of crosses is all due to a local philanthropist Murray McCann who financed it and got the support of local Legions along with police and fire department personnel to help organize it,” Eamer said.
“McCann originally got the idea from a display he saw in Georgia. I have heard something similar take place in North Vancouver but otherwise this is pretty unique event so the hope is it will spread to more communities, to serve as a symbol of gratitude to those who served and died.”
A resident of Calgary until she moved to Kelowna nearly five years ago, she said the inspiration for her to pursue the idea came from her young granddaughter.
“I’ve taken her to the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Kelowna but she had a hard time grasping the concept of what was going on, what a bunch of names on a piece of granite meant,” Eamer said.
“But I showed her the display in Calgary and that really grabbed her attention. The crosses with the names on each of them drove home the message to her in a more personal way what Remembrance Day is all about in a way the annual ceremony did not for her.”
To bring the $12,000 project to fruition, Rotary purchased the crosses and Legion volunteers have helped with fixing up each marker for display. The B.C. Dragoons regiment in Kelowna are also donating their time to place the metal inserts in the ground that attach to each cross, and local cadets will help with erecting the crosses.
The display installation will begin Saturday, Nov. 3, with the grand opening of the exhibit set for Monday, Nov. 5, 10 a.m., in a brief ceremony that will include a piper, bugler and Legion branch colour guard. The display will remain in place leading up to Remembrance Day.
Jim White, president of the Kelowna Legion branch, said in the week prior to Remembrance Day, local Grade 7 classes have been invited to visit the site from Nov. 5 to 8 where groups of five to six students choose a name on a cross and research their history with the assistance of the Okanagan Military Museum, visit the Legion and talk with some of the vets on hand while enjoying hot chocolate and cookies, and then return to school and write an essay or complete an art project to reflect what they learned from their field trip experience.
White says the idea is the Field of Crosses will become an annual display with more crosses possibly added for other fallen heroes whose names are not included in the cenotaph.