'It's all about remembrance': Group plants thousands of poppies on veteran graves at Vancouver cemetery

A group of volunteers planted thousands of handmade poppies at the graves of veterans at Vancouver’s Mountain View cemetery on Saturday to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.

Volunteers spent two years preparing the handicrafts for this year's centenary

People place handmade poppies at the graves of fallen soldiers in Vancouver's Mountain View cemetery on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A group of volunteers planted thousands of handmade poppies at the graves of veterans at Vancouver's Mountain View cemetery on Saturday to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War.

"It's all about remembrance and veterans," said Guy Black, the organizer of the event. "It's a commemoration of the end of the war when peace was finally achieved and the sacrifice that soldiers and families made for someone else's freedom and peace."

The ceremony brought together hundreds of veterans, community members, local politicians and European dignitaries. It began with a parade led by military cadets, followed by a service of remembrance, and ended with an overnight candlelight vigil.

"If you think of all the men and women who fought in wars or peacekeeping duties ... they suffered and their families suffered," said Black. "I think it's really important to remember those people."

'It’s all about remembrance and veterans,' said Guy Black, the organizer of the event. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Black said he was inspired by a similar event in the United Kingdom. He led a volunteer group who spent almost two years handcrafting around 8,500 poppies. They used black and red craft foam to make the flowers and coat hangers for stems.

Black was joined by local members of the Order of the Eastern Star, a freemason organization involved in charitable activities, and members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in U.S. independence efforts.

A veteran of the Canadian Forces Reserves, Black has been involved in a number of commemorative projects over the past two decades. He received a commendation from Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs in 2009 for volunteering "considerable time to commemoration within the veteran community," according to the ministry's website.

He was pleasantly surprised at the turnout for the event, which included NDP MLA Mable Elmore as well as representatives of the governments of Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

"At one point, we were worried that there would only be myself and one other person coming here and planting 6,000 poppies," said Black. "We are so surprised that so many people came out."

A group of volunteers spent two years preparing around 8,500 poppies to plant for the centenary of the end of the First World War, Black said. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Between the crosses

Black said his research showed that Vancouver's only cemetery is home to the graves of thousands of soldiers from B.C. who were killed in the two world wars. The group placed one poppy at every grave in one section of the cemetery.

"We just wanted to make a poppy field and to do it at the cemetery where there are 4,000 graves," he said.

Five of those graves belong to soldiers killed in the Korean War, said Black, and a special ceremony was held to commemorate them.

Byung Don Min is a veteran of the Korean Marine Corps who served in the Korean War. He moved to Canada in 1967 and worked in the forestry industry for three decades.

"I am very happy to join the ceremony this afternoon where the five Canadian soldiers ...  lost their life," said Don Min. "We are so fortunate that Canadians sacrificed to fight for freedom for any other country in the world."

Don Min says commemorative events like these serve a very clear purpose.

"You have to know history; where you come from, what you're doing, where you're going," he said.

Black just hopes that, even 100 years later, people will not forget.

"For someone to come here, experience the events, and maybe go home thinking about it; that would be something really important for us," said Black.

With files from Jon Hernandez