Trip to Charlottetown cemetery helps Island students connect with fallen veterans

A student lays a poppy at the gravesite of a veteran at Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown, P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
A student lays a poppy at the gravesite of a veteran at Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown, P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

Some Island elementary school students are getting a unique chance to connect with Canada's military history this week — by visiting cemeteries where veterans are buried.

The ceremonies are hosted by the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation — a national group dedicated to honouring and remembering Canada's veterans.

Children are introduced to some of the individual veterans buried at their local cemetery, and afterwards, asked to explore the area and leave poppies at the gravesites of veterans.

"It's active participation," said retired brigadier-general Eric Goodwin, volunteer co-ordinator of No Stone Left Alone events on P.E.I.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"As opposed to passive standing and watching a parade, listening to speeches and watching old people like me place wreaths on a monument. With this ceremony, they're involved, they're engaged," said Goodwin.

'An emotional experience'

As part of the recent ceremony at Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown, students were brought to the gravesite of Ken Eves of the Royal Air Force. Eves was just 21 when the airplane he was travelling in crashed en route to Newfoundland, killing him and three Canadians on board.

Goodwin said after ceremonies like these, students are asked for their feedback — and report being moved by the stories of individual veterans.

"Their takeaway is that it was an emotional experience," said Goodwin. "It wasn't necessarily a sad experience, but it was a meaningful one. They get to learn names of people who served and have since passed away and that's very powerful."

He said for many children, it's their first time in a cemetery. And for some, a first chance to see the gravesites of loved ones buried there.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"They've come to these events knowing that they've got a grandparent or great-grandparent in that particular cemetery, but they've never seen their grave. And we take them and we find it, if we know they're there."

Nine-year-old student Addison MacAdam said it felt nice to leave poppies for fallen veterans.

"It made me feel good that we could go around and place poppies," said MacAdam. "If you place your poppy it shows you noticed and represented them."

Fellow student Luke Dowling said leaving poppies for veterans is a way to show you are thankful for their service.

"We're here because people fought in the war to save our country and we are happy that they did it for us. That's why we're here and laid poppies on their graves" said Dowling.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

Eliot River Elementary teacher Ellen Beaton co-ordinated her school's involvement in the event. She said in preparation for the ceremony, students learn all about poppies, poppy-placing protocols, and about local veterans.

"We're not just honouring that person, but we're honouring their family, and I feel like that might have resonated quite a bit with the kids," said Beaton.

"Also a lot of the kids might not have the opportunity to attend a cenotaph on November 11th, so it really gives them a good or a better understanding of why we do this every year."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

A similar ceremony will be held with students in Summerside on Wednesday.

According to Goodwin, approximately 250 Island students will take part in the No Stone Left Alone events this week.

He said a total of 12,000 students are expected participate this week — leaving poppies on the graves of approximately 70,000 veterans.