Unmarked graves project completed

The unmarked graves project at the city cemetery in North Battleford is now completed.

Members of North Battleford Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 70 as well as representatives from the Canadian Legion of Riders and others were at the cemetery Saturday afternoon for the unveiling of the final headstone at the site.

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The headstone reads "Known Only to God" and it was the only one of the graves in which the deceased individual could not be identified by name.

The ceremony wrapped up an effort by Branch No. 70 to identify and mark some 97 unmarked graves at the cemetery, an effort spearheaded by Comrade Al Van Meer about 12 years earlier.

He and a few others had toured the veterans sections of the cemetery and "had noticed there were headstones that were not marked," according to Marilyn Clark, member of the executive of Legion Branch No. 70 and their liaison with the Canadian Legion of Riders.

"We want to honour every veteran that has paid any type of service to us," she added.

Van Meer and the others resolved to have the headstones marked and identified with a name, and so the campaign was launched.

The early years involved hard work to find information about who was buried there, as well as to obtain the assistance of the Last Post Fund to fund the project.

Clark said that fund had enough information about some of the graves to facilitate the identification and marking process.

A total of 70 graves were marked and identified, but that still left another 27 unmarked. Those might have missed information like a birth date or regimental number, something "small, but small enough that it could not be marked by the Last Post Fund."

It was at that point that the Canadian Legion of Riders got involved. The motorcycle-riding veterans raised money and offered their help.

According to Clark it was the Canadian Legion of Riders who approached them about this initiative.

"We're not used to that. We're used to giving the money out."

That was how Ride for a Vet, which takes place during the month of July, was born, said Clark.

The Canadian Legion of Riders raised well over $41,850 towards the effort to mark the 27 graves. Clark said the project was not possible without their assistance, as the headstones cost $1,350 plus GST and PST. It also cost another $200 each to have them cemented.

Altogether it would have cost over $47,000 for all the graves.

On hand at the ceremony was George Cote, representing the Canadian Legion of Riders, as well as Branch No. 70 president Orel Fladeland and other officials, including North Battleford mayor Ian Hamilton.

A wreath was laid and those in attendance left poppies on that wreath in front of the final headstone.

The ceremony itself had been scheduled for earlier this summer, but inclement weather put it off until Saturday, which was a clear, crisp day.

"It was a journey that was a pleasure completing," said Clark, who noted it was an emotional day for those in attendance.

It was also emotional, in part, because the man who had helped launch the effort, Van Meer, had not lived to see the day.

"We made a promise that we would complete this for him, which we did," Clark said. "Wherever Comrade Al is today, he's looking down and giving us a big smile."

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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