Thousands of crosses, row on row. It is an arresting image that appears each November in Calgary along the city’s Memorial Drive. The Field of Crosses is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by the men and women of Southern Alberta and across Canada who gave their tomorrows for our today. Each year the five-acre memorial with more than 3500 crosses is created to pay tribute to our veterans, and those who did not make it home, with ceremonies at sunrise and sunset. And each day after the sun sets, Stampede volunteers wind their way among the crosses, straightening, tending, and honouring.
“We owe a debt to the men and women that serve our country, one we can never repay. We can honour their sacrifice by showing respect for those that serve. For me to go and straighten the crosses of these fallen heroes is a way for me to show gratitude to the soldiers and their families.” Says Calgary Stampede volunteer Michael Wetherup, chair of the Western Agriculture Heritage committee.
Wetherup is just one of many Stampede volunteers from numerous committees who stepped up to support the maintenance of the Field of Crosses in 2020, the second year Stampede volunteers have been part of the initiative. Led by the Community Projects and Development (CPD) committee, each evening saw a dozen volunteers come out.
“In the 2 years, we have never had a challenge getting enough volunteers to sign up for the Field of Crosses,” says Brian Johnston, of the CPD committee. “Each volunteer takes a very respectful responsibility to ensure the crosses are straight and looking impressive to those that come to share their thanks of the military men and women identified on each cross.”
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by those in attendance each evening.
“People recognize right away that we are from the Calgary Stampede, as they come up to us and tell us so, from our cowboy hats,” says Joel McNichol, of the CPD committee. “It’s almost as if they expect that we would be there and they are always excited to see us. It’s a great opportunity to talk about the different kinds of volunteerism that exists in Calgary and to share this great initiative of honouring those who have sacrificed their lives for our rights and freedoms.”
Each cross along Memorial Drive is placed in remembrance of someone from the Calgary and area community who gave their life for today’s freedoms. While moving through the rows of crosses, the volunteers often take the time to read about each of those who are honoured. For Michael Wetherup, the experience became deeply personal.
“I found myself staring at a cross with my last name on it. It belonged to my uncle who was killed in action in 1944. My father and both of his older brothers went off to fight, and my dad was just 17 years old. At that age I was playing football and trying to get a date,” he shared, adding, “I can’t imagine the courage and commitment that it took to go to war. My father was a long time Stampede volunteer who taught me the importance of serving our community. Kneeling in front of my uncle’s cross and reflecting on how all these brave souls’ service to us cost them the loss of their youth, their innocence and some, their life; seeing how young they were was a sobering moment. I feel very proud and blessed to have been able to straighten my Uncle’s cross and so many other fallen heroes.
It is through volunteer initiatives like these, that the Stampede family is able to connect with our community throughout the year.
“There are so many year-round initiatives that we can partner with that it goes way beyond what people perceive as the 10 days of Stampede; we are the 365 days of Stampede Spirit!” says McNichol.
And that Stampede Spirit may be especially welcome in these difficult times.
“2020 has been a challenging year for all of us and so many are feeling alone or isolated,” says Wetherup. “By supporting events like this we have the opportunity to connect with others and continue to make our city and communities the kind of places we are proud to call home.”