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White cross memorial program gathers momentum again in South Cowichan
Since 1926, in late fall, white cedar crosses adorned with cedar sprigs and blood-red poppies mark grave sites around the Cowichan Valley.
While we pay respects on Remembrance Day to those who died in the war, the crosses recognize those who served in the war and survived, those who returned to live out their lives at home.
The tradition slowed to a trickle when only one elderly volunteer, Alice May Kennett, placed crosses at Mountain View Cemetery on her own. Cowichan Valley resident Mike Bieling took it upon himself to reinvigorate the tradition and engaged his middle-school students to create the crosses and invited local air, sea, and army cadets to salute the grave sites as crosses were placed.
Until this year, Jim Wisnia and the Mill Bay-Malahat Historical Society participated as observers of the ceremonies. This year, they took over from Bieling the ceremony organization and cross placements in the South Cowichan area.
“We were impressed with the ceremony and the dignity of the event. We saw it was a worthwhile endeavour and as a historical society it made sense for us to be involved. We can take some of the load off Mike, who has been doing it pretty much singlehandedly in our area.”
The cross placement ceremony happens at the end of October. The crosses remain at the grave sites until late November, at which point they are collected and stored until next year. Wisnia said this lets community and family members to visit the grave sites before and after Remembrance Day.
“If people weren’t able to join us on the day we place the crosses, it gives them a chance to go out and appreciate what their relatives have contributed to the community.”
Wisnia said the idea is to honour all those in armed security occupations, even those who fought on the other side of the battle ground.
“In the South Cowichan, down at the former Methodist United church cemetery in Mill Bay, there is one grave of a gentleman who served in the German army. He is also being recognized.”
Cemeteries with crosses in South Cowichan include Shawnigan cemetery, Mill Bay United Church (originally the Methodist United Church), St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the Dougan Family Cemetery behind Valleyview mall. Contact Mike Bieling to volunteer in your area firstname.lastname@example.org.