No Stone Left Alone is Putting Poppies on Veterans’ Headstones Across Canada and Around the World
Every November 11th, Canadians come together to remember and honour the soldiers who served Canada and those who fell in battle. While it is common for Canadians to visit their local cenotaph or war memorial, the headstones of Canada’s veterans are rarely visited.
Since confederation, over 118,000 Canadians have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their graves can be found as far away as Russia, Myanmar, Sudan, South Africa, France, Holland, and Iceland. Thousands of cemeteries worldwide hold the remains of Canadian soldiers who died in the service of the King and Country or as Veterans who survived the horrors of war.
In 1971, Maureen Bianchini Purvis was speaking with her terminally ill mother, Lillian Mary Bianchini, a veteran of the Second World War. Asking her daughter not to cry, Lillian’s dying wish was that Maureen never forget Armistice Day, now known as Remembrance Day in Canada.
At the time, Bianchini Purvis didn’t understand Armistice Day, but she never forgot from that time forward. Each year, she takes a poppy to lay on her mother and father’s headstones at Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton.
One year, Lilian Mary Bianchini’s granddaughter asked her mother why the rest of the veteran’s headstones don’t get a poppy. Bianchi Purvis wrote to the Minister of Veterans Affairs asking for the department’s support to ensure that poppies appeared on all veteran’s headstones across the country.
In 2011, No Stone Left Alone was founded to honour all Canadian soldiers who have fought and all those who have died in the service of peace, either at home or abroad.
Bianchi Purvis still runs the organization as a way of honouring her parents and all the deceased veterans and Canadian casualties of war, but since then, she’s received support to help make her ambition of getting a poppy on every Canadian soldier’s headstone come to fruition.
According to Laurie Hawn, former MP for Edmonton Centre (2006-2015), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence and the volunteer director for No Stone Left Alone, the tradition of remembrance Bianchi Purvis started will not only continue, it will expand. Hawn himself is a veteran of the Canadian Forces who served as a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who flew both CF-104 Starfighter and CF-18 Hornet planes.
No Stone Left Alone holds a poppy-laying ceremony at Edmonton’s Beechmount Cemetery every year. Hawn says he first heard of the organization in 2011: “I was in Parliament at the time, and I figured, I’m just going to go show up.”
That Remembrance Day, Hawn witnessed 120 students lay 4149 poppies. Since then, it has only grown bigger and bigger. Last year, 80,000 poppies were laid on headstones by 10,000 students in over 229 ceremonies across every province, as well as in Belgium, France, Portugal, The Netherlands, Poland, and the United States.
Two hundred seventy-five poppy laying ceremonies will take place this year, with Hawn leading one at Arlington National Cemetery in the United States at the end of the month. “They’re about 15 headstones we’re going to lay poppies on,” he says.
“Arlington National Cemetery is a significant place for Americans, and it will show a sense of solidarity since Canadians and Americans are often in it together,” Hawn said. He also commends the Remembrance efforts of other countries where Canadian soldiers are buried, particularly in the Netherlands, where, to this day, Canadian military veterans are treated “like rockstars,” as he puts it, and says he’d like to see this level of spirited Remembrance in Canada.
To fund the operation, No Stone Left Alone holds a Dance to Remember fundraiser. This year’s event will be held in Edmonton on Saturday, November 4th. The organization is a non-profit with the backing of the Governor General of Canada as its patron and messages of support from the Chief of the Defence Staff. In Alberta, the Beechmount Cemetery ceremony is attended on Remembrance Day by the Premier and the Lieutenant Governor of the Province.
No Stone Left Alone welcomes educators, veterans groups, and any Canadian who wants to do their part to ensure veterans are not forgotten to organize a ceremony with their help. For more information, visit nostoneleftalone.ca, where you can also donate to the organization.
Although the organization started as a personal endeavour to commemorate her beloved parents’ sacrifice, Bianchini Purvis’s ultimate goal is to see the graves of every Canadian veteran decorated with a poppy annually.