A labour of love in ev­ery stitch of knit­ted and cro­cheted pop­pies

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - LI­CIA CORBELLA lcor­bella@post­media.com

Pippa FitzGer­ald-Finch lov­ingly shakes snow off dozens of cro­cheted and knit­ted pop­pies ly­ing art­fully on the grass at the west side of the Cathe­dral Church of the Redeemer in down­town Cal­gary. It’s a mov­ing scene.

Thou­sands more of the in­tri­cate pop­pies sweep up above her at­tached by gar­den mesh to the grace­ful roof of the sand­stone cathe­dral, look­ing very much like a colour­ful flock of birds in flight.

It’s ev­i­dent this in­stal­la­tion of more than 8,000 hand-knit­ted and cro­cheted pop­pies, adorn­ing both the in­side and ex­te­rior of the 1905 Angli­can church, is a labour of love for FitzGer­ald-Finch.

The 68-year-old par­ish­ioner says the idea to dec­o­rate the church for the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War was seeded in her na­tive Eng­land dur­ing a trip there more than a year ago, when she saw knit­ted pop­pies stream­ing down from the tower of a church in Sus­sex.

“It was very mov­ing to see it, so it got me think­ing,” said FitzGer­ald-Finch.

Her church knit­ting group, which nor­mally makes blan­kets for new moth­ers and their ba­bies, loved the idea of adorn­ing the Angli­can cathe­dral to mark this spe­cial Re­mem­brance Day.

So, more than a year ago, the eight women of the knit­ting group started mak­ing the blood­red pop­pies and lit­tle by lit­tle word got out un­til many dozens of women from all across Canada, a few from the United States and even one in New Zea­land helped to cre­ate pop­pies as unique as each sol­dier who went off to war.

FitzGer­ald-Finch says she knit­ted more than 500 of the pop­pies her­self, which took about 40 min­utes each to make.

As she knit­ted or cro­cheted, she said she was mind­ful of the in­cred­i­ble sac­ri­fice made by so many mostly young men — some of them re­ally just boys — who fought and died against tyranny.

“My fa­ther (Keith Moore) was in Burma for five years dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and my step­son was in Afghanistan,” she says. “He was a bomb dis­posal ex­pert with the Bri­tish army.

“I had some­one from Seat­tle send one poppy for a fam­ily mem­ber who died in the war. What is in­ter­est­ing is all of the sto­ries that came in with their pop­pies. It’s ob­vi­ously caught peo­ples’ imag­i­na­tions and they feel it’s a won­der­ful way of re­mem­ber­ing their rel­a­tives.”

Sit­ting in one of the back pews, FitzGer­ald-Finch points to two thin streams of pop­pies hang­ing from tiny hor­i­zon­tal flag poles high on two stone pil­lars.

“Those are all from a woman from Pincher Creek, who sent in a box of 66 pop­pies and a note.” The note ex­plained that the ceno­taph in that south­ern Al­berta town of just 3,600 peo­ple lists the names of the 60 men from there who died in the First World War. The other six pop­pies rep­re­sent the six Indige­nous men from the Peigan Na­tion nearby who also died in the war that was sup­posed to end all wars.

“It’s an as­ton­ish­ing loss for such a small town,” mar­velled Rev. Leighton Lee. “It bog­gles the mind.”

Step­ping out­side, Lee says the dis­play has drawn a lot of at­ten­tion from all over.

As if on cue, Jan­ice and Dan Wile, a cou­ple vis­it­ing from Nova Sco­tia, stop in front of the church to take pic­tures.

“We saw a story about this on the TV in Hal­i­fax and we were com­ing out here to visit our son and his fam­ily and I said, ‘I have to come and see this when we get here,’” said Jan­ice. “It’s sim­ply breath­tak­ing.”

The dis­play is made all the more poignant for the Wiles since their son, Maj. Evan Wile, 38, fought in Afghanistan with the elite JTF2 (spe­cial forces) and is on a bat­tle­field tour in Bel­gium with his wife and the mil­i­tary re­serve unit he com­mands.

While the poppy dis­play will be taken down on Mon­day, as is proper, in­side the his­toric build­ing, there are two per­ma­nent large plaques con­tain­ing the names of about 150 of the cathe­dral’s con­gre­gants who died in the Great War.

Ex­actly 60,661 Cana­dian sol­diers died in the First World War, at a time when the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Canada was barely eight mil­lion. Al­most 43,000 Cana­di­ans per­ished in the Sec­ond World War in a coun­try of just 11.5 mil­lion.

Lee points out the mean­ing be­hind the word re­mem­ber.

“I shouldn’t give away my ser­mon on Sun­day, but the word re­mem­ber is ac­tu­ally re-mem­ber. It’s the idea of mak­ing whole some­thing that is bro­ken, torn or de­stroyed.

“So from our Chris­tian point of view, re­mem­brance is about not for­get­ting, but it’s also about bring­ing the past into the fu­ture in a vi­tal way that things can be re-made, re-mem­bered,” says Lee. “The whole point of re­mem­brance for us is not just to re­call what hap­pened and to com­mem­o­rate those who died and fought for us, but to pledge our­selves to re-mem­ber — to make whole — our so­ci­ety which has been bro­ken and torn by strife and con­flict, war, evil and in­jus­tice.

“That’s our Chris­tian vo­ca­tion, to work for the restora­tion of the world and to strive, truly, to make our com­mu­ni­ties and our world places of real jus­tice, last­ing peace, ab­so­lute in­clu­sion, all of those things that were fought for.”

Lee in­vites ev­ery­one to take part in the 10:30 a.m. Sun­day ser­vice when at two min­utes be­fore the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a bu­gle will sound and two min­utes of si­lence will be held for all the men and women who paid the ul­ti­mate price for our free­dom.


Pippa FitzGer­ald-Finch and Rev. Leighton Lee say the pop­pies that adorn the Cathe­dral Church of the Redeemer have drawn at­ten­tion.

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