Thousands expected at Field of Crosses for Remembrance Day ceremony

As Canadians prepare to observe the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, more and more Calgarians have been taking in ceremonies at the Field of Crosses.

Executive director Thomas Leppard says attendance at sunrise and sunset ceremonies held this week has grown “significantly” from years past, and he expects thousands to gather Sunday morning for Remembrance Day services.

“You saw tonight, it’s sunset ceremony, five o’clock, people have busy lives and there’s 60 or 70 people taking time out to come pay their respects and be part of the ceremony at the Cenotaph,” he said Thursday.

“I think there’s a number of factors for that.… We have hundreds of volunteers work to set this up, so it really has been embraced by the community. I think there’s kind of a spiderweb effect. The more people get involved, the more people get involved. People think it’s worthwhile and it’s meaningful.”

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Each Nov. 1, more than 3,400 crosses are set up in a green space along Memorial Drive near Centre Street — one for every southern Alberta soldier who has lost their life while on active duty. The crosses remain there until Nov. 12.

“There’s a lot of emotion. I think one of the biggest ones is just the simple respect that people want to come down and say thank you, share their gratitude. There’s a sense of reverence when people are here,” said Leppard.

“There’s a sense of sorrow, but there’s also a sense of deep pride. This is their homecoming. The 3,400 crosses here, they’re buried elsewhere. They’re in France and Belgium and Holland. They’re in Sicily, in Italy, in Hong Kong, Korea … they have no grave. So for those southern Albertans that got on a train in Calgary and left, this is their homecoming.”

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Leppard said about 100 people have been attending daily sunrise ceremonies and about 50 have been attending sunset ceremonies.

“Canadians as a whole … since about 1995, with the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Canadians have become more attuned to those important moments, benchmarks in our history,” he said.

“The Vimy [Ridge] 100th [anniversary] last year and the 100th anniversary of the First World War this year, I think it speaks to people.”

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The Field of Crosses has become a place “that Calgarians see as theirs,” said Leppard.

“To come and pay tribute to the fallen because it’s such a physical reminder,” he said.

“There’s no place in Canada that puts up 3,400 crosses for 11 days with the names of the fallen — and that resonates with people. I think what’s really important is that people understand that behind each name there was a person, that there was a family who suffered loss.

“During the First World War, in Calgary, every family would have known somebody that fell. So there’s that growing sense of community and that this belongs to us, that these are ours and we need to show that appreciation and I think that’s special.”

Sunday’s ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Memorial Drive will be shut down from Centre Street to 3rd Street N.W. and parking is limited. There is also no handicap access on site.