Dozens of volunteers kept their spirits high Saturday as they toiled to remake wreaths for a ceremony honouring Canadian Armed Forces veterans, after nearly 3,000 were stolen from a property southeast of Ottawa last weekend.
The handmade grapevine wreaths were being kept in a shipping container in Maxville, Ont. The property owners suspect the wreaths were taken sometime between either late at night on Nov. 27 or early in the morning on Nov. 28.
Michelle Levac says the theft feels personal.
"The turnout for volunteers is incredible and it sort of brings me hope again, because at the beginning of this week, I was just like why? Why our community?" said the director of community engagement for Wreaths Across Canada. Levac's husband also served in the military for 30 years.
Wreaths Across Canada planned to lay 6,000 of the symbolic decorations on headstones at the National Military Cemetery on Sunday afternoon.
By last weekend, volunteers had made around 5,000 wreaths, but were left with fewer than 1,800 after the theft.
Binda Amorim said she was "sickened" to hear about the stolen wreaths and wanted to help make new ones.
"I want to show those people that took the wreaths that nothing stops us," she said.
Over an eight-hour period Saturday, people from across Ottawa stopped by the Beechwood Cemetery — that encompasses the military cemetery — to pick up hot glue guns and get to work decorating new wreaths.
Police investigating theft
Sunday's event is meant to honour Canadian military veterans for their service and sacrifice during the holiday season.
Wreaths Across Canada ceased operations in 2018, but resumed in 2021 with the help of donors and corporate sponsors. The not-for-profit was started in 2007 by Canadian Forces veteran Craig McPhee, who was touched after seeing wreaths placed on military graves by the group Wreaths Across America when he visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
"When you see stuff like this, for me, it's just the minimum of a souvenir for the guys who give their life for the country," said Jean-Luc Leonard, who served in the French Army in 1983, and came out Saturday to volunteer his time to weave new wreaths.
While laughing, he said he's not an artist but was trying his best to keep up with the other volunteers.
Organizers are asking for the public's help to locate the stolen wreaths, and to contact police if they have any information. The Ontario Provincial Police are investigating the theft.