Veterans owed ‘a debt we can never pay back,’ says Poppy Brigade volunteer

By Richard Hutton
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Lake Report

Joan Hill says all Canadians should feel indebted to those who found it within themselves to answer the call of duty during wartime.

But no matter what, she said, enough can never be done.

“It’s a debt we can never pay back,” Hill said, as a small group of volunteers, members of the Poppy Brigade, helped with this year’s debut of the Poppy Project on Wednesday morning.

The installation at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum features a sea of thousands of crocheted poppies affixed to netting using zip ties.

Hill became involved with the project at its onset back in 2021.

She figures she has crocheted hundreds of poppies that are a part of installations at the museum, the historic courthouse on Queen Street and the Royal Canadian Legion branch 124 on King Street.

While her family has no direct connection to either the First or Second World Wars, her parents, having lived through the latter, instilled in her and her sister the importance of honouring those who served.

“They passed it on to us,” she said.

The poppies, all 7,000 over the three installations, were crafted by a group of around 40 volunteers over the last three years.

About a dozen or so of those volunteers were on hand to help with the installation at all three sites. Workers

from Davey Tree Expert Co. helped with the installation.

Hill is proud of what she brought to the table to help bring the project to life.

“Back in 2021, I actually taught someone to crochet,” Hill said. “She wanted to help, but didn’t know how.”

Fellow volunteer Terry MacTaggart’s father was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War and she takes part in the Poppy Project to remember him and all other veterans.

“His squadron was the first to go inside (the Nazi concentration camp) Belsen,” MacTaggart said. “The pictures he had were unbelievable.”

Her father did not talk about his wartime experiences often, although when her grandson was tasked with a project for high school that involved speaking with a veteran, it was a different story.

“He talked about it to my grandson,” MacTaggart said.

Sue Henry has been volunteering with the brigade for the last three years.

And though not much of a crocheter, she said she’s probably affixed hundreds of poppies to the mesh curtain in her time with the brigade.

Much of Henry’s family has served in one war or another, including her 67-year-old brother, Donald Henry, who was a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I don’t think thousands of young men would sign up the way they did in (the Second World War),” she said.

Henry added that she wants to see more funding for veteran support services, as many soldiers have come back from the war in Afghanistan and have had trouble adjusting to civilian life.

Volunteers help install The Poppy Project’s display at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum. – Richard Hutton photo

“Like everything, you’ve got to fight for every cent,” she said.

Janet Guy agreed with Henry that there might not be as much support for a war effort today as there was in the 1940s.

“They don’t know war,” Guy said of today’s youth.

She said war seems to exist only on the news now.

While today it’s drone strikes and proxy wars, it was once more personal, with armed combat, she said.

Barbara Worthy, the museum’s community engagement co-ordinator, spearheaded the project since its inception.

She said the community has come to appreciate the group’s efforts.

“It’s amazing the support we have had,” she said.

The installations will remain in place at all three sites until Nov. 13.

Along with the three installations in town, horses from Sentineal Carriages will be wearing blankets adorned with purple poppies to honour animals who served.

– with files by Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative, The Lake Report