Ottawa

Volunteers work to remake wreaths after thousands stolen ahead of commemoration

Wreaths Across Canada had planned to lay 6,000 wreaths at a ceremony to remember and honour Canadian Armed Forces members in Ottawa on Sunday. Last weekend, nearly 3,000 were stolen and volunteers spent Saturday remaking the symbolic decorations.

Wreaths Across Canada organizers devastated after nearly 3,000 wreaths stolen last weekend

Volunteers from the community came together on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 to assemble and decorate more wreaths after thousands were stolen from a rural property in Maxville, Ont., approximately 75 kilometres southeast of downtown Ottawa last weekend. The wreaths were meant to be laid at the tombstones of Canadian Armed Forces members at the National Military Cemetery. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Dozens of volunteers kept their spirits high Saturday as they toiled to remake wreaths for a ceremony honouring Canadian Armed Forces veterans, after nearly 3,000 were stolen from a property southeast of Ottawa last weekend. 

The handmade grapevine wreaths were being kept in a shipping container in Maxville, Ont. The property owners suspect the wreaths were taken sometime between the night of Nov. 27 and early in the morning on Nov. 28. 

Michelle Levac says the theft feels personal.

"The turnout for volunteers is incredible and it sort of brings me hope again, because at the beginning of this week, I was just like why? Why our community?" said the director of community engagement for Wreaths Across Canada. Levac's husband also served in the military for 30 years. 

Erika Wagner, who is part of Wreaths Across Canada, holds a special wreath, adorned with a bird's nest that a volunteer found on the grounds of the Beechwood Cemetery. She says the wreaths are being made with the intention of keeping them for years to come and for future ceremonies. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Wreaths Across Canada planned to lay 6,000 of the symbolic decorations on headstones at the National Military Cemetery on Sunday afternoon.

By last weekend, volunteers had made around 5,000 wreaths, but were left with fewer than 1,800 after the theft.

Binda Amorim said she was "sickened" to hear about the stolen wreaths and wanted to help make new ones.

"I want to show those people that took the wreaths that nothing stops us," she said.

Binda Amorim and Jean-Luc Leonard work alongside each other to make wreaths. Leonard served in the French Army in 1983, and says he felt it was important he help Wreaths Across Canada restock their decorations for the ceremony to honour military veterans. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Over an eight-hour period Saturday, people from across Ottawa stopped by the Beechwood Cemetery — that encompasses the military cemetery — to pick up hot glue guns and get to work decorating new wreaths.

Police investigating theft

Sunday's event is meant to honour Canadian military veterans for their service and sacrifice during the holiday season. 

Wreaths Across Canada ceased operations in 2018, but resumed in 2021 with the help of donors and corporate sponsors. The not-for-profit was started in 2007 by Canadian Forces veteran Craig McPhee, who was touched after seeing wreaths placed on military graves by the group Wreaths Across America when he visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

"When you see stuff like this, for me, it's just the minimum of a souvenir for the guys who give their life for the country," said Jean-Luc Leonard, who served in the French Army in 1983, and came out Saturday to volunteer his time to weave new wreaths.

While laughing, he said he's not an artist but was trying his best to keep up with the other volunteers. 

Organizers are asking for the public's help to locate the stolen wreaths, and to contact police if they have any information. The Ontario Provincial Police are investigating the theft. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at celeste.decaire@cbc.ca and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.

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