November 20, 2019

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Heartwarming project: massive poppy memorial blanket unveiled

Sheilah Restall gathered her community to help stitch and sew handmade poppies to create a blanket of more than 8,000 handmade poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.

MAGGIE MACINTOSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sheilah Restall gathered her community to help stitch and sew handmade poppies to create a blanket of more than 8,000 handmade poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.

Across Manitoba, thousands of poppies they did crochet and sew.

Between hundreds of volunteers, poppies were attached, row on row — in order to create a 26-metre-long memorial blanket for Manitoba veterans ahead of Remembrance Day.

The people behind the Poppy Blanket Project unveiled the bright red covering made of more than 8,000 unique poppies at Winnipeg city hall Thursday morning.

"I chose not to stipulate how the poppies should look, as I wanted all the poppies to be individual so that when we look at it, you do not see a sea of red but rather, are reminded of the individuals who fell and the individuals who came home," said Sheilah Lee Restall, who organized the community project to honour members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Alongside local politicians, community members and veterans, Lee Restall admired the blanket, each fabric flower designed to stand out; some lopsided, others tightly-knit with colourful button centres.

The blanket also bears more than 2,000 dedicated ribbons, including 1,092 bearing names of the registered Manitoba soldiers who died in the First World War.

The project was a year in the making for Lee Restall. She was inspired when she saw a photo of a poppy blanket created in the United Kingdom, so much so she decided to reach out to the Handmade Winnipeg public group to see if anyone might be interested in helping her make one in Manitoba.

Volunteers who worked on the Poppy Blanket Project admire the memorial — an 85-foot-long blanket of handmade poppies during the blanket's unveiling at Winnipeg City Hall, Thursday.

MAGGIE MACINTOSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Volunteers who worked on the Poppy Blanket Project admire the memorial — an 85-foot-long blanket of handmade poppies during the blanket's unveiling at Winnipeg City Hall, Thursday.

The response, she said, was "overwhelming." Hundreds of volunteers worked on the project and some shed tears while doing so because the emotional experience, Lee Restall said, adding both her grandparents fought in the Second World War.

"I grew up with my grandmother, who taught us how much it means — what she fought for, what other people fought for," she said.

Although Mayor Brian Bowman said he wasn't crafty enough to participate in a hands-on manner, he spoke Thursday about the inspiring nature of the project. He also recalled his trip to Juno Beach in France earlier this year for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings — "One of the most impactful experiences of my life."

"The most memorable part was really just seeing the pride in the faces of our veterans and their family members," he said, before encouraging all Winnipeggers to wear a poppy and attend a Remembrance Day ceremony this long weekend.

Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma called the blanket "a testimony of our collective remembrance of the sacrifices made for our freedom." The level of community involvement in the project speaks to how the tangible act of remembrance was so meaningful for so many, Sharma added.

The poppy was first adopted as a symbol of remembrance following the First World War. The Royal Canadian Legion gave the Poppy Blanket Project its blessing to use the symbol.

"You don’t realize — when you go to work and you accomplish your duties, that there’s people that care about what you do and think that you make a difference," said Lt.-Col. Mark Fugulin, who attended the Thursday presentation. "A gesture like that really is comforting and makes me more motivated to continue what I do."

The blanket will be on display during the city’s main Remembrance Day ceremony at the RBC Convention Centre on Monday. After that, it will spend a few days at the Manitoba legislature before a permanent home is announced.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.

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History

Updated on Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 7:05 PM CST: Adds photo

8:37 PM: Updates lede.

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