Edmonton students lay poppies on soldiers' graves

Manroop Randhawa was one of 300 students who honoured Canadian veterans Thursday by laying a poppy on 36 graves at an Edmonton cemetery.
Grade 8 student Manroop Randhawa lays a poppy on the grave of a soldier at Edmonton's Beechmount Cemetery Thursday. (CBC)

Manroop Randhawa crouched in the grass and carefully placed a single poppy at the base of a plain, rectangular gravestone.

The Grade 8 student, clad in a black jacket, white blouse, and her school kilt, stood up, reached in a small paper bag, and moved on to the next grave.

Randhawa worked her way down the row, laying poppy after poppy. When she was done, the soft-spoken student from Oliver School had laid 36 poppies on 36 graves, each the final resting place of a Canadian soldier at Edmonton's Beechmount Cemetery.

"It feels good because you get to remember the soldiers and what they did for you," Randhawa said afterwards. "Not everyone does that, so this is a special event."

Randhawa was one of 300 students who took part Thursday in No Stone Left Alone, a new initiative which is the result of a question Keely Yates asked her mother 14 years ago while the family was laying poppies on her grandparents' graves.

The No Stone Left Alone initiative resulted from a question Keely Yates asked her mother when she was 10. (CBC)

"I'd look out at the thousands of graves here and usually they'd be the only one that had something and it would just break my heart every year," the now 24-year-old said.

"I asked [my mother], why is it only my grandparents? What about all the other soldiers that fought and lost their lives?"

Yates never stopped asking that question. Two years ago, her mother, Maureen Bianchini-Purvis, sent a letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The minister loved the family's idea and gave them the names of who they should contact in Edmonton.

Thursday's ceremony was the result. Students from three Edmonton schools laid poppies on the graves of 3,700 soldiers.

"I can't tell you how proud I am," an emotional Bianchini-Purvis said. "I can't believe as a mother, that a child can ask a question, and an idea, and it can really come true. I think it's fabulous ... it was an incredible thing and the right thing to do.

"I think at the end of the day, it's the right thing for all of us to do, to remember them all."

The family is working through their No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation with the Royal Canadian Legion, the Greater Edmonton Poppy Fund and the Canadian Forces to eventually expand the event outside the city.

They want to have a poppy placed on the grave of every Canadian soldier buried in this country, about 105,000 in total.