P.E.I. woman knits dolls for soldiers to hand out in war zones

A P.E.I. woman with military connections is doing her part to bring joy to children in war zones around the world.

Izzy dolls made in honour of a Canadian soldier who died in Croatia

Nancy MacLean says she's going to keep making the Izzy dolls and hopes other Islanders will join her. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A P.E.I. woman with military connections is doing her part to bring joy to children in war zones around the world.

Nancy MacLean has knitted more than 60 Izzy dolls that will soon be heading overseas with soldiers from Prince Edward Island, who will hand them out to children.

The project was inspired by Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld of the No. 1 Combat Engineer Regiment. While he was in Croatia in the early 1990s, his mother Carol started knitting dolls from scrap wool and sent them along with Mark to give to children. 

After Isfeld died in Croatia in 1994 while removing land mines, his mother kept making them, and hundreds of others have joined her.

The story resonated with MacLean, who was a cadet officer for many years and has a son in the military.

The Izzy dolls are small enough to fit in a soldier's pocket so they're easy to hand out. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's a fabulous story of a young corporal whose mother started making these dolls in remembrance of him, he was a peacekeeper that was killed," she said. 

"He had been handing the dolls out and she continued doing that and they were named after him, his nickname was Izzy."

Comfort dolls

MacLean said she was inspired by her own mother, who has been making comfort dolls for the Community Hospital in O'Leary.

"That pattern didn't appeal to me and then I remembered these Izzy dolls and I thought maybe I could do those."

Air cadet Darren Creamer says a knitted doll from a Canadian soldier could be 'the pride and joy' for a kid from an impoverished country. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

MacLean said she tries to make the dolls "as colourful as possible too to appeal to the children."

"Each and every one of them is different, or as different as I could make them. I'm having a lot of fun now that I know they are going to go somewhere and little children will be able to enjoy them."

Heading overseas

The 60 squadron air cadets will officially present MacLean's Izzy dolls to the military family resource centre in Charlottetown at a ceremony.

They will then head overseas with reservists going to Latvia, as well as aboard the HMCS Summerside heading to Africa, where they'll be handed out to children.

MacLean says she tries to make the dolls as colourful as possible. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Air cadet Darren Creamer said the soldiers feel good when they can give something to children.

"A lot of these countries that they're going to are not very well off and a little toy like this, a kid in Canada may not think much of, but it may be the pride and joy of the kid that receives it," he said.

Calling on crafters

MacLean said she'll continue to make the Izzy dolls, and hopes other Islanders will join her.

"P.E.I. has an amazing military support historically and really does support this type of initiative. All those crafters there sitting in their homes with those little balls of thread they can certainly do it and I am sure that the military family resource centre would help them find good homes for them."


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.