MacKenzie Dugay found her visit to the graveyard at St Anthony’s Catholic Parish Church to plant Canadian flags next to the graves of veterans touching.
“It’s nice to come here to see all those who fought for us because we wouldn’t be here without them,” said the Grade 6 student from Bloomfield Elementary.
Ms Dugay was one of 30 Grade 6 students from the school who could be found wondering among the headstones at the graveyard on Oct. 28.
The students’ trip to the graveyard began first with instructions from St Anthony’s Legion member Brian Arsenault. He informed the students that all 91 graves belonging to veterans inside the graveyard were marked with an aluminum poll where the students could place their flags. Mr Arsenault also instructed the students to write down the names of the veterans after they placed their flags.
Mr Arsenault, along with fellow legion members Alan Curtis and Marsha Wedge, then headed out three Canadian flags to the students. The children also received a package that contained a notepad, pen, bracelet, pins and poppy seeds.
Mr Arsenault has been coordinating the annual cemetery visit for over a decade.
When he got involved, there were two veterans who would accompany the students. They would go around with the children pointing out the graves of the veterans buried in the cemetery. Sometimes that meant graves were unintentionally missed.
It was Mr Arsenault who introduced the aluminum polls to help the students find the veterans’ graves by marking their headstones.
Another initiative he began was getting the students to write down the name of the veterans. Beforehand, he would just give the students the flags, they would scatter out over the graveyard and would be done in five minutes. Mr Arsenault wanted to find a way to slow the students down and help them appreciate the exercise better.
Mr Arsenault now also asks the students to write a paragraph of their cemetery experience, asking them to include the names of the veterans they wrote down.
“I like to see the kids get something out of it,” he said. “It’s a history lesson for them too.”
Mr Arsenault looks forward to the cemetery visit with the students every year.
“I just have a great appreciation for our veterans,” he said.
Mr Arsenault comes from a military family, his brother a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces. His grandfather and a cousin also served.
St Anthony’s Legion oversees several graveyards in the area. Mr Arsenault plants flags at the United Cemetery on Cemetery Road in Miminegash, Campbellton United Cemetery and St Mark’s graveyard in Burton. The legion also places flags at Sacred Heart Church graveyard on Main Street and Hillcrest Presbyterian Cemetery on Church Street, both in Alberton, and a cemetery in Montrose.
On Nov. 1, members of the Tignish Legion accompanied Grade 6 students from Tignish Elementary to the St Simon and St Jude Roman Catholic Cemetery to place Canadian flags at the graves of veterans within its boundaries.
This is the fifth year the Tignish Legion has been doing the Canadian flag exercise with local students.
Tignish Legion member Leo Gaudet said seeing the flags flying next to the graves of veterans is very gratifying.
“We get a lot of positive comments,” he said.
There are roughly 140 veterans located in the St Simon and St Jude cemetery. Mr Gaudet said anyone who served in the military has a flag placed next to their grave, not just veterans of the First and Second World War.
Mr Gaudet said he hopes the students will remember this exercise as they get older and inspire them to continue on with such traditions.
Bloomfield Elementary student Layla Jacklyn said class’ trip to St Anthony’s graveyard was definitely a different kind of learning experience.
“When you think of cemeteries, you think of dead people, but coming here we get to experience learning all about those people who fought to keep us safe,” she said.