Landscapers, horticulturalists and volunteers from across the region gathered early in the morning on Friday, Nov. 5 for Beechwood Cemetery’s 16th annual National Day of Tribute. Participants pitched in their time, tools and fertilizer to prepare Beechwood’s National Military Cemetery for this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony.

Many of the day’s participants — including workers from a half-dozen landscaping companies and numerous volunteers — featured individuals with direct connections to Canada’s military, including Pete Campbell, chair of the National Day of Tribute committee and former combat engineer who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than 25 years.

“Many of the people and companies who come out every year do it out of respect,” he said. “They may have had family in the military, may have been in the military themselves, or someone they know is buried right here.”

He added: “We come out here, we volunteer our time, because it’s important to us and important to the people who will be here on (Remembrance Day). It really is a true service day.”

Preparations for the National Day of Tribute began at 7 a.m. on Friday, just as the rays from the rising sun began to reflect off the morning frost blanketing the site. “We got a lot of things that need to get done before noon,” said Pete Campbell. “Raking, fertilizing, seeding, aerating — so we gotta get started early.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Jason Wallace, a first-year volunteer and trucking manager at Manderley Turf Products, unloads grass seed from his truck for the site’s more barren grass beds. He said his family’s service in the Second World War was a driving factor in choosing to participate this year. “Both my grandfathers and my grandmother served,” he said. “Being here with all these other people also volunteering their time to honour people like my grandparents … it’s amazing. It really puts a frog in the throat.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Two of the first volunteers to arrive were husband and wife Josh and Mandy Kirk, current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Attending the National Day of Tribute for the first time, Josh said he views caring for the cemetery as a way to show his respect for veterans and the military. “A clean site shows respect to the people that served and gave their lives for Canada,” he said. “The military also gave me a lot — I was able to serve my country, I was able to deploy to Afghanistan, and it’s even how I met my wife.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Those who attended the Nov. 5 National Day of Tribute spent nearly five hours landscaping the National Military Cemetery’s grounds, which honour 8,000 Canadian war dead. Rakers made up the largest team of volunteers, clearing the grass of the season’s heavy leaf fall. Raking “really gets the blood flowing, even when it’s below freezing outside,” said Mandy Kirk. [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Though the National Day of Tribute’s main goal is to prepare the site for the Remembrance Day commemoration, some of the work done by volunteers will benefit the cemetery year-round. “We’re helping the site look good for people who have to pay their respects, whether that’s on the 11th or another time of year,” said Greg Dedeugd, sales manager at Nutri-Lawn, who was fertilizing the grass surrounding veterans’ grave markers. [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Dedeugd’s reason for coming out to the National Day of Tribute wasn’t just to fertilize the grounds. His girlfriend’s grandparents — who respectively served as an airforce pilot and nurse during the Second World War — share a marker in the cemetery. “I wanted to come here and take a moment to think about what her grandparents’ service has done for us,” he said, looking down at their plot amid the hundreds of graves. “They dedicated years of their lives to pay for our freedom, and I wanted to be here to thank them for that.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Julie Thibault, distribution manager at Manderley, helps her team of rakers make faster progress by putting their leaf blower to use. She attended her fifth National Tribute Day this year, making her one of the longest-serving participants present on Friday. “I have many family members who have served in the military, but I think I’d still be here today even if I didn’t,” she said. “I appreciate the history and the fact that we’re in a free country, and there’s so, so many Canadians to remember through our work today.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]
Friday’s team of volunteers poses near the National Day of Tribute’s meeting point, where they would return throughout the day for more equipment, supplies and snacks. “When it comes to organizing this thing every year, it’s like organizing a big picnic,” said Campbell. “Reaching out, inviting, getting all the family there and making sure they bring something to contribute — but instead of sandwiches, it’s leaf blowers.” [Photo © Pascale Malenfant]