Canada

Community rallies to help replace stolen wreaths for veterans’ graves

“We are humbled by the support and recognition afforded to those that have served and gone before us, and especially for the impact this recognition has on families.”

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Appalled by the theft of 3,000 wreaths destined for the graves of Canadian veterans, local volunteers rallied Saturday to make new ones in time for a ceremony at the National Military Cemetery.

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Wreaths Across Canada will hold a short ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Sunday after which members of the public will be invited to lay the wreaths on the headstones of fallen soldiers.

Erika Wagner, a member of the registered charity’s board of directors, said almost 1,000 wreaths had been finished Saturday afternoon by volunteers working inside the Memorial Cross Building at Beechwood Cemetery.

A third shift of 20 volunteers was expected to work until 6 p.m. Saturday in an attempt to finish another 1,000 wreaths.

“We’re trying to strategize how to get them done,” said Wagner, who expected volunteers would be returning Sunday morning to finish what she hoped would be a total of 3,000 new wreaths.

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Lorraine Alexan and her husband, Karim, were among the volunteers decorating wreaths with fir tree boughs, ribbon and red berries on Saturday afternoon.

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“When my husband and I saw the news about those thefts, we were just appalled and wanted to try to help to right that,” said Alexan, a retired wealth manager.

Geraldine Dixon, business development manager for Chartwell Retirement Residences, said she responded to the request for help after hearing about the “heartbreaking” theft. “We want to give back,” she said.

Jocelyn Wigginton, 25, who works at Chartwell Rideau Place, volunteered Saturday because she wanted to do something in response to the senselessness of the wreath heist. “Why would somebody do that at this time of year? With this cause?” she asked.

Geraldine Dixon works away decorating wreaths on Saturday.
Geraldine Dixon works away decorating wreaths on Saturday. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

During the night of Nov. 28, almost 3,000 wreaths made from wild grapevines were stolen from the Maxville property of Robert and Jodie Tessier. Volunteers had cut the grapevines on properties in the area and assembled the wreaths by hand as part of an effort, organized by Wreaths Across Canada, to honour 6,024 fallen soldiers buried at the National Military Cemetery with Christmas wreaths.

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After the thefts, Erika Wagner said, officials with the charity were crestfallen, but quickly moved to figure out how to rescue this year’s wreath ceremony. “We went right into game-plan mode,” she said, “and the outpouring of volunteers just totally changed our spirits. We have hope again.”

Dozens of volunteers came forward to produce wreaths in Maxville on Friday and to decorate them Saturday at the Memorial Cross Building.

“We are humbled by the support and recognition afforded to those that have served and gone before us, and especially for the impact this recognition has on families,” said Brigadier-General Dyrald Cross, commander of the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group, which manages the National Military Cemetery.

Wreaths Across Canada Inc. is a non-profit group launched in 2007 by Canadian Forces veteran Craig McPhee, who was moved by how U.S. veterans were honoured each December at Arlington Cemetery. Each headstone had a wreath placed at its base.

While Wreaths Across Canada said it would will likely miss its goal of 6,024 wreaths this year, but it would be determined to cover all of the National Military Cemetery’s headstones in 2022.

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