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'They'll always be remembered': No Stone Left Alone honours fallen soldiers for 7th year

The No Stone Left Alone initiative started small in 2011. This year, it's grown into a Canada-wide effort with 7,700 students involved in placing poppies on the gravestones of 52,000 soldiers at 100 different locations across Canada.

7,700 students will lay poppies on the headstones of 52,000 soldiers at 100 locations across Canada

Students share what it means to them to be a part of the No Stone Left Alone Remembrance Ceremony in Edmonton. 1:53

The ritual of placing a red poppy on a soldier's headstone started small for the Purvis family.

Every year on Nov. 11, Randall Purvis and his wife, Maureen, would walk with their children through the rows of white headstones marking the graves of 4,000 soldiers buried in the Field of Honour at Edmonton's Beechmount Cemetery.

They'd place a poppy on the headstones belonging to his Maureen's parents. It was one of the last things her mother, Lillian, had asked for: "Don't forget me on Armistice Day."

One year, while standing at the towering cenotaph, Purvis' youngest daughter wondered: "Why don't all the soldiers have a poppy on their headstone?"

Poppies left on the headstones by students during the No Stone Left Alone ceremony Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (John Robertson/CBC)

"That was the genesis of an idea," Purvis said. He founded the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation in 2011.

It started that year with junior high students from one school gathering for a ceremony at one cemetery, he said. The students honoured 4,000 soldiers by placing poppies on their headstones. 

In 2012, No Stone Left Alone did the same for every cemetery in Edmonton. It has since grown into a Canada-wide effort. This year, 7,700 students will be involved, placing poppies on the headstones of 52,000 soldiers at 100 different locations, Purvis said. 

'An ambitious goal'

The ultimate goal is to have a poppy placed on every headstone of every soldier in Canada each year on Nov. 11.

People gather to take part in the No Stone Left Alone Remembrance ceremony Monday. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It's an ambitious goal, and we have our focus clearly set on Canada," Purvis said. "Statistics tell us there are 117,000 soldiers buried in fields of honour in Canada, but many soldiers and family members are buried in family plots."

On Monday, students from numerous schools in Edmonton will lay poppies on 4,100 headstones at Beechmount Cemetery. The ceremony will feature a flyover by Canadian Forces 419 Air Squadron, 4 Wing Cold Lake.

The event begins at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public. 

In Calgary, students from St. Margaret, Ascension of Our Lord, St. Matthew, Our Lady of Peace, Blessed Cardinal Newman schools will lay poppies at Burnsland Cemetery and Union Cemetery with support from 41 Canadian Brigade Group beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Placing a poppy on a headstone helps students feel connected to the soldiers, Purvis said.

Students take a moment to reflect while placing the poppies in Beechmount Cemetery for the No Stone Left Alone project. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It changes their perspective. They have a little bit more appreciation," he added.

"Maybe they've never talked to a serving solider, maybe they've never talked to a reservist or a cadet. So they have this interaction with the armed forces at many different levels. For the first time they're just seeing the act of remembrance through different eyes."

It changes their perspective. They have a little bit more appreciation.- Randall Purvis, No Stone Left Alone

The ceremony has a big impact on surviving veterans and their families as well, Purvis said.

Purvis said he has received letters from family members of soldiers, thanking the foundation for their efforts of remembrance each November.

"These children are doing this," Purvis said. "Honouring these other family members that they've never met.

"We had a 93-year-old gentleman here a couple weeks ago, it just gave him life. It gave him hope that he was going to be remembered. Serving soldiers today have told us... that they know they'll always be remembered."