Marg Maskell, seen with her patriotic banner, gets emotional in her Newcastle home as she recalls meeting the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Photo Credit: YVONNE BERG
The Star The message from Kandahar moves Margaret Maskell to tears. "It is a great feeling to have the community back us while we are deployed," reads the email from Master Cpl. Nicholas Field. Field, a 27-year-old trooper from Oshawa, took one with him when he left for Afghanistan last August. The support it represents is a motivating force that makes his posting "a bit more bearable," he says. Field is due to come home in a month.
"It truly makes me feel proud to serve Canada and its people. There is no way to truly show my gratitude to the communities that support us."
Maskell's bold red and yellow banners appear to be doing the job.
The unique sign she helped create to rally support for Canada's troops is sprouting up on posts, walls and buildings across the province. The retired Newcastle resident's dream is to have a banner in every city and town across the country.
"I want to show the world that Canadians are united in support of our troops," she says.
The deaths of six soldiers from a roadside bomb on April 8, 2007 – Easter Sunday – planted the seeds for the banner project. The tragedy hit close to home for Maskell, 62, whose nephew, Cpl. David Allison of New Brunswick, was in the same battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. He had started his tour of duty just weeks before the lethal blast.
Later, she met some of the grieving families during a visit to Allison's parents near Fredericton.
"What can I do to make things better?" she asked.
One father stepped forward: "You can wear red on Fridays to show your support. And tie a yellow ribbon for everyone to see."
So Maskell wore red every Friday and tied yellow ribbons in front of her home.
Then came the loss of a local hero, Trooper Darryl Caswell, from neighbouring Bowmanville, killed the following June. The crowds assembling at overpasses grew larger with each hearse bearing a fallen soldier along Highway 401. Maskell's banners have a special meaning for Christine Caswell, Darryl's stepmother, who has become a friend."When I see them in places I don't expect, it puts a smile on my face and lets me know people are thinking about the troops."
"I just knew that I had to do something else," says Maskell. "I couldn't sleep, thinking about our men and women giving their lives for us."
She contacted Hampton resident Scott Taylor, who has a sign-making business called The Artshack. Together they designed a banner incorporating a red maple leaf inside a yellow ribbon. Then Maskell took it on the road on behalf of Canada's dead, injured and veteran soldiers.
Encouraged by Lieut.-Gov. David Onley, she has succeeded in getting banners hung at Queen's Park and in communities throughout Ontario and beyond. She'd like to see one on Grenville St., near the Toronto morgue where the repatriation processions end.
In the Bowmanville supermarket where Maskell worked until retiring last year, soldiers visiting the store last year were touched by the sight of the colourful banner near the checkout, says manager David Skitch.
"They just loved it and appreciated the support from the community," he says.
The heavy vinyl banner is 107 centimetres high but can be custom-made in any size. The price starts at $65, which Scott Taylor says covers materials and labour. He can be contacted for orders at firstname.lastname@example.org
A BIG HUA for Scott Taylor and Marg Maskell!