Edmonton woman receives Governor General's honours for poppy project

·3 min read
Students participating in
Students participating in

An Edmonton woman is being recognized for a campaign she created to try to ensure poppies are placed on veterans' headstones every November.

Maureen Bianchini Purvis, 61, is among the 98 recipients of the Meritorious Service Decorations announced Thursday by The Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.

The medals are awarded to individuals who have performed a deed or an activity in a highly professional manner, or at a very high standard that brings benefit or honour to Canada.

"I'm very grateful and a little bit in shock to be honest with you," Bianchini Purvis said Wednesday. "It's been 10 years since our charity began here in Edmonton and to reach this award, it's just sort of unbelievable."

Her charity called No Stone Left Alone, aims to honour the sacrifice and service of Canada's military by educating students and placing poppies on the headstones of veterans.

It's inspired by her late mother who served with the Canadian Women's Army Corps in the Second World War.

"She passed away when I was a young girl. So she had asked me, you know, to not forget her," Bianchini Purvis said.

"I was a 12-year-old girl and so that first November, I took the poppy I wore at school and I went out and I placed it at her headstone and I continued to do that for years."

Maureen Bianchini Purvis lays a poppy at her late mother's headstone, a tradition that has turned into a campaign involving tens of thousands of students all across Canada.
Maureen Bianchini Purvis lays a poppy at her late mother's headstone, a tradition that has turned into a campaign involving tens of thousands of students all across Canada.

The idea for the project came to her when she started sharing her poppy tradition with her daughters.

"My children were young girls and we would go out to the cemetery and every time they said, 'mom, how come they don't all don't get one?,' and that sort of sparked a flame in me," Bianchini Purvis said.

"We started at that one ceremony and then it just completely keeps going, it's like the most fabulous snowball in the country," she said. "Honest to God, it warms your heart."

Maureen Bianchini Purvis with her daughters and grandson at Edmonton's Beechmount Cemetery in November 2020.
Maureen Bianchini Purvis with her daughters and grandson at Edmonton's Beechmount Cemetery in November 2020.

Now tens of thousands of students across Canada participate in the campaign every year.

"We take the students from their classroom during the week of remembrance and we meet them at the cemeteries where all our fallen veterans are laid to rest," she explained. "The students, along with a serving soldier, will place a poppy at the headstone of any particular veteran."

Last year's participation was lower than previous years due to the pandemic, but there were still 1,510 students that placed 28,722 poppies on headstones in 60 communities across Canada, including every single veterans' grave in Edmonton. In 2019 more than 12,000 students participated in the program, placing nearly 65,000 poppies.

Bianchini Purvis said she's thrilled about receiving the Meritorious Service Medal. She said her mom will be in her thoughts when she receives the award at a ceremony to be held at a later date at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

"When I started this, I did it in her honour obviously and somewhere hopefully she's looking down and she's very proud of me."

Maureen Bianchini Purvis says inspiration for the project came from her late mother Lillian Mary Bianchini (Nee Hidson), who served with the Canadian Women's Army Corps in the Second World War.
Maureen Bianchini Purvis says inspiration for the project came from her late mother Lillian Mary Bianchini (Nee Hidson), who served with the Canadian Women's Army Corps in the Second World War.

Bianchini Purvis wasn't the only recipient in Central Alberta on Thursday. The list also includes Brian Leavitt and Eric Rajah from Lacombe for founding A Better World Canada — a charitable organization that tackles poverty in some of the world's most disadvantaged regions.