This year’s event is the 100th Armistice or Remembrance Day.
According to Mike Bieling of the Old Cemeteries Society, “Early Armistice Day services were often held in local cemeteries, where returning wounded veterans were soon being interred, and after the Royal Canadian Legion was founded in 1925, it defined its Armistice Day services as cemetery-based. As far as we know today, such ceremonies were first held in 1926 at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Quamichan, and St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Tzouhalem, though other churchyards may have been involved as well.
“When the Cross of Sacrifice in Charles Hoey Park was erected during the 1930s, Armistice Day observations shifted there and tended to focus on war veterans who had fallen and were buried overseas, rather than on those who had returned to live the rest of their lives at home. In many communities, this led Legion and other volunteers to continue the practice of cemetery cross placements to honour all deceased veterans.”
In 1955, North Cowichan established Mountain View Cemetery as a non-denominational burial ground with a Legion Section, and Branch 53 volunteers brought the veterans’ cross placements there.
“At some sites, they lapsed over the years, while more recently they have enjoyed a revival all over the Valley. Only at the parish of St. Peter’s, Quamichan, are they believed to have continued uninterrupted for all 93 years,” Bieling says.
Nowadays, about 1,000 Cowichan Valley veterans are being recognized with veterans’ remembrance crosses, “but hundreds and possibly more still remain unknown to commemoration organizers. The work of identifying them continues as part of the Old Cemeteries Society’s Lest We Forget Where They Lie project.” To add the name and burial site of a veteran interred in one of the Cowichan Valley’s cemeteries, please contact Mike Bieling at 250-748-5031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bieling encourages members of the public to attend one of the following cross placement events.
First up, among the cross placement ceremonies, is one on Saturday, Oct. 26 at All Saints’ Anglican Church Cemetery, Westholme at 8530 Chemainus Rd.
At 10:30 a.m. members of 100 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Admiral Mainguy, led by C.O., Lt. (N) Nolan Stewart, will place 45 crosses on the graves of veterans in the historic churchyard on the bank of the Chemainus River. Included will be a cross and formal salute for the Corps’ namesake, Westholme-born Vice-Admiral E. Rollo Mainguy (1901-1979), of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The following day, Sunday, Oct. 27, it’s time for the extensive cross-placing at Mountain View Cemetery and St. Mary’s Anglican Church yard. These are located at 6493 and 6309 Somenos Rd. respectively, in North Cowichan.
Following a 1 p.m. Poppy Flag service at Duncan City Hall, everyone moves out to Mountain View, where, at 1:30 p.m. members of 744 (Cowichan) Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron and other local cadet groups will set up and salute 452 veterans’ crosses. They begin in the Legion Section of Mountain View, and after a march by the cadets along Somenos Road, conclude at St. Mary’s Anglican churchyard.
Because of the calendar placement of Remembrance Day this year, there is time for a second weekend of cross-placing.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, at 2475 Koksilah Rd., Cowichan Station, some former parishioners and others will gather at 11 a.m. to set up and salute 32 remembrance crosses on veterans’ graves in St. Andrew’s churchyard and two inside the church in front of the stained-glass window commemorating the 13 servicemen from Cowichan Station who lost their lives overseas during the First World War.
The group will later proceed to Shawnigan Community Cemetery (1825-1855 Munsie Road, Shawnigan Lake) for the afternoon part of the day’s events, which begin at 1 p.m.
Two more cemeteries are also visited during this event: the first at the Heritage Partnership Museum (Mill Bay Methodist/United Church Cemetery) at 2851 Church Way, Mill Bay, and then, finally, at nearby St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church at 790 Kilmalu Rd.
The South Cowichan volunteer group will place 35 white crosses marking the graves of local veterans at Shawnigan Community Cemetery and then will continue on to set 12 crosses at the former Mill Bay Methodist/United Church churchyard.
By 2 p.m., the group should reach St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church Cemetery, where a procession and piper will provide the background for the placement of 51 white crosses. The day concludes with refreshments in the parish pastoral centre.
The Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society organizes the South Cowichan cross placements together with Royal Canadian Legion Branch 134, 744 (Cowichan) Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, the Malahat Lions Club, and St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church.
On the final Sunday before Remembrance Day, Nov. 10, there is a further event at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, 3295 Cobble Hill Rd., immediately after the 10 a.m. service, (approximately 11:15 a.m.).
St. John’s Church congregation is holding monument cleaning sessions in their picturesque churchyard every Tuesday morning (9:30 a.m. start) in October to prepare for the placement of white crosses on the graves more than 100 veterans from the Cobble Hill community.
Members of the community, and especially families of these men and women, are invited to join the parish in honouring their veterans in this way. The crosses will remain up for most of November.
Finally, on Monday, Nov. 11, at St. Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Quamichan, 5800 Church Rd., Duncan, there’s the biennial Veteran Cemetery Tour, Tea and Display ($5 per person)
Doors open at 1:45 p.m., and the popular tour starts at 2 p.m. with tea served from 2-4 p.m.
The cemetery houses 267 veterans’ graves with the parish’s own traditional flat white cross decorated with poppies by All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2. Visitors can see them there for most of November.