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'To help them heal a little': P.E.I. man makes mementoes for families who have lost a child

An 82-year-old P.E.I. man who lost his daughter many years ago, spent the past winter making dozens of wooden keepsakes to help other families who have lost a child.

Working on the plaques brought back memories of Gerald Caseley's own daughter

Gerald Caseley from North Bedeque, P.E.I. spent hundreds of hours in his garage over the winter making more than 150 plaques to provide solace for families who have lost a child. (Pat Martel/CBC)

An 82-year-old P.E.I. man who lost his daughter many years ago, spent the past winter making dozens of wooden keepsakes to help other families who have lost a child. 

"Hopefully it's to help them heal a little bit," said Gerald Caseley from North Bedeque, P.E.I.

Caseley modelled the keepsakes after the huge granite sculpture that sits at the entrance to the International Children's Memorial Place in nearby Scales Pond, P.E.I.

Caseley's plaques are replicas of the original 15-tonne granite sculpture by Julie Glaspy that sits at the front entrance of the International Children's Memorial Place in Scale's Pond, P.E.I.. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The 15-tonne stone sculpture was carved by Julie Glaspy.

The design depicts a mother, a father and two children gazing down at the cut-out figure of a lost child.

 'We've made upwards of 150 plaques'

Caseley was approached by a friend a couple of years ago to make a plaque resembling the granite sculpture, but it wasn't until last fall when the friend asked him again, that Caseley decided to make one — and then another, and so on.

"And over the winter, we've made upwards of 150 plaques, probably about 300 hours." 

P.E.I. man makes dozens of wooden plaques to help heal families who have lost a child 0:54

Caseley first took a photo of the original sculpture and then used a pantograph to etch out the figures on each plaque.

Gerald Caseley uses a pantograph to guide him when carving out the design. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Once the plaque is carved out, Caseley sprays it with gray-flecked paint that gives it a granite-like appearance.

It takes two to three hours to make a plaque.

'You don't really ever get over it'

While making the plaques over the winter, Caseley's thoughts often turned to the painful memories following the death of his daughter, Georgie Irene. She was fatally hit by a car when she was seven years old.

Gerald Caseley uses high quality Balkan Birch plywood to make his mementoes. It takes him 2-3 hours to finish one. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"It's probably the worst possible thing that can happen to a family," said Caseley. "It never leaves."

Caseley and his wife Lois lost their daughter in the 1970s.

"I guess you don't really ever get over it, but we managed to soldier on," he said. "It's a constant thing that you never forget."

A labour of love

Caseley has not only donated hundreds of hours of his time to the project — he's also spent hundreds of dollars of his own money for the materials.

"You love doing it for the simple reason that it helps other people," he said.

Many of the plaques were given to people who have already donated to the International Children's Memorial organization.

'It's just to have a reminder at their home that they have something here that they can come and visit and then take a part of it home with them,' says Kay Noonan with the International Children's Memorial Place. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The other plaques are now being sold for $200 each at the International Children's Memorial Place in Scales Pond, with proceeds going towards upkeep of the place.

"There was a young couple from Ontario and they had lost their son in January," said Kate Noonan, who works at the memorial. "They saw the small sculpture inside and they were quite happy to get it, and said it represented their family."

'Gerald is a great craftsman'

 "Gerald is a great craftsman and he took great pride in making those," said Bill MacLean, founder and current vice president.of the International Children's Memorial Place.

The plaques sell for $200, with the money going to upkeep of the International Children's Memorial Place in Scales pond, P.E.I. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Caseley is pleased his keepsakes have so much meaning for families.

"I hope they enjoy them and it reminds them of good times."

"Hopefully, they'll realize that they're not alone and other people feel for them and care. I really do," he said.

About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.