COVID-19 can't stop this Vancouver Island community from Remembrance Day tradition of marking veterans' graves

·2 min read

A long-standing Remembrance Day tradition in the Cowichan Valley that honours veterans laid to rest in local cemeteries will not be waylaid by COVID-19 if Mike Bieling has anything to do with it.

Bieling, a member of the Old Cemeteries Society, is leading the charge in the Vancouver Island community to make sure white crosses are placed at the headstones of veterans who are buried in the valley in the days leading up to Nov. 11.

Marking the graves with the simple wood crosses has taken place every year since the 1950s and is usually done by local army and sea cadets with participation from legionnaires. According to Bieling, those uniformed personnel could not carry out the custom this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

"We were a little bit stuck," he told CBC's On The Island, adding that one cemetery, Mountain View in Duncan, had about 500 crosses that need staking at that site alone.

Facebook/Mike Bieling
Facebook/Mike Bieling

So Bieling turned to social media to appeal for help.

And help came.

Local volunteers answered the call and assisted Bieling, armed with a list of local veterans' graves he inherited from "old legion personnel," in marking them.

The simple wooden crosses, standing about 55 centimetres high and 30 centimetres across, are each adorned with a poppy and a sprig of cedar.

Mike Bieling
Mike Bieling

Bieling said most area cemeteries are laid out in chronological order and once the grave markers are placed, you can stand back and see clearly where the First and Second World War veterans have been laid to rest.

"You can read a certain pattern in history just by looking at little white crosses," said Bieling.

Bieling is also always interested in hearing from people who know of a veteran buried locally that may not be on his list.

To add the name and burial site of a veteran interred in one of the Cowichan Valley's cemeteries, contact Mike Bieling at oldcemeterian@shaw.ca.

Tap here to listen to the complete interview with Mike Bieling on CBC's On The Island.