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‘It means so much:’ Families thankful for painted poppy rocks on Remembrance Day

COVID-19 will make gathering for Remembrance Day ceremonies or even buying a poppy difficult this year, but one woman is hoping her unusual artwork will help provide meaning to some of her neighbours.

For the last three years, Julie Mungall of Winnipeg has been painting intricate poppies on rocks and placing them for locals to find. This year, she’s also making sure the rocks are weather- and COVID-proof.

“I take extra precautions,” Mungall, who works for an insurance company, said in a phone interview. “After my rocks are sealed, I wipe them with Lysol wipes before I go out and hide them.”

Mungall is among enthusiasts found on Facebook who design rocks for occasions including Christmas, Halloween and Pride Month. The rocks are stashed for people to find and keep, or gift to others.

“I would say out of the 50 rocks that I’m putting out this year (for Remembrance Day), I’ll get about 20 confirmed replies that, ‘I found this rock,” Mungall says.

Many who set out to find one of her poppy-painted rocks have a close relationship with Remembrance Day.

“So many people who found my rocks (say), ‘Thank you so much. This rock is beautiful. It means so much. My grandfather served or my sister is currently serving.'”

While most people keep or gift the rocks, a few place them on the graves of loved ones who were veterans, Mungall says.

“I hide them pretty hard. And people will go out there in the dark with flashlights looking for them,” she says.

“People had so much value in the poppies. It was just the incentive I needed to keep doing it.”

Mungall says there are multiple “rocking communities” on Facebook with thousands of members. Some are placing their own versions of poppy rocks across the country.

The Royal Legion of Canada has adapted its annual poppy campaign to include 250 “pay tribute” boxes across the country. The boxes have a glowing poppy tap pad that allows people to donate by using any tap technology card or smartphone before they take a flower.

The legion says Canadians can also purchase poppy face masks to cover up during the pandemic.

For Canadians who prefer to mark Remembrance Day in a more traditional way, Veterans Affairs Canada has a list of socially distanced activities.

“For the most part, the shift has been from holding large events across the country to hosting much smaller events,” said Robert Löken, national manager of honours, awards and commemoration.

Löken is advising Canadians to check with their local Remembrance Day ceremony organizers to see what restrictions are in place and whether there is a possibility of attending an event.

Remembrance Day falls during national Veterans’ Week and the department says it has created several virtual ways to mark the 75th anniversary in September of the end of the Second World War. One of them includes release of a podcast called “Faces of Freedom” that profiles the lives of former and current Canadian heroes.

Online streams of local Remembrance Day ceremonies will also be available.

“One of the things that I would really like all Canadians to do is, if they’re unable to attend a ceremony because of the restrictions, if they don’t have access to a computer or a streaming device … on Nov. 11, at 11 o’clock, just take that one minute of silence to reflect on the importance of the freedoms that we have today,” Löken said.

“That in itself is commemorative.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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