Kept mostly inside during lockdown, Remembrance Day 2020 was looking difficult for many of the residents of Oakwood Terrace, a long-term care home in Woodside.
For a lot of the residents, it is an important day to mark, especially in Halifax; many lived through the Second World War, had family and friends fight in it, or have had kids or grandkids fight in other wars over the years.
The day is meaningful to them, but with the pandemic still causing them to live under strict restrictions. it looked like it might have been a less public affair.
But a story from Calgary caught their eye. A church there had put on a poppy art display, with poppies made by the community and exhibited for all to see. The Oakwood Terrace residents decided to adapt that idea.
Those in the knitting and crocheting group, a popular way to pass the time under lockdown, started making poppies and arranging them onto a large banner. By the time Remembrance Day came, they had around 2,000 handmade poppies for the community to see.
This year, they’re doubling up on their efforts: 4,000 poppies, arranged in a wreath-like display. And, with events slowly creeping back into public life, this year they’ll get a better chance to show off their hard work. The poppies will be displayed at the Dartmouth Cenotaph before they move to the First Baptist Church, where they will be part of a performance.
“We have also decided to add an extra addition to the poppy project this year,” says recreation coordinator Chantal Beaulieu, “by hosting a ‘Poppy Tribute Concert’ called ‘Songs that Won the War.’ We will be using the 4,000 poppies as a stage backdrop, and a cast will present a tribute to the Andrew Sisters and Vera Lynn.”
One resident, Evelyn, was living in New Brunswick as a child through the Second World War.
“Everybody was involved in war work and doing things,” she remembers. “Your whole family gets involved, and then all my children went into cadets and in the military.”
Keeping up morale — in its own way a big part of doing the knitted tribute in the first place — was important then.
“We always had things that we did to send boxes overseas. We were always knitting or doing other things for the soldiers,” Evelyn says. “So it’s been something that I grew up with, I’ve always been involved in things concerning the military.”
For Beaulieu, who says her grandfather served in the war, it’s a different way of connecting. “When you think like, the women back home were serving as well, in their own way, working in the factories and making the care boxes for the soldiers,” she says.
“I always heard the story of my uncle. My grandmother was expecting with her first child, and when [my grandfather] returned, my uncle was five years old, meeting his father for the first time. And that always really struck me as a child; that’s a lot of time you miss with your family.”
The sincerity of the project has spread as well to some outside of Oakwood Terrace, who have become involved by making poppies of their own this year.
“I just had a bag get dropped from some in the community,” Beaulieu says. “A lot of times I don’t even know who dropped it off, they saw it in The Beacon or they saw a bulletin board.” Family members get involved and so do the nursing home’s volunteers. All hands on deck.
“Remembrance Day hits a deep chord for all of us, especially this generation because they were firsthand witnesses,” Beaulieu says. “You and I, we can only think of what our grandfathers shared — they have firsthand memories. And I think we need to capture those stories now.”