“I want to set a positive example for our youth - that if you have an idea, a passion or dream, go forward to the best of your ability. Reach out for support from those around you. If it is the right thing, the ripple effect is real. Canadians will embrace it and as always Canadians will do the right thing.”
Maureen Bianchini Purvis of Edmonton founded No Stone Left Alone (NSLA) to recognize the sacrifice of Canadian men and women who lost their lives in the service of peace, at home and abroad. NSLA guides children as they learn about these sacrifices, placing poppies on veterans’ headstones, lest we forget their valour and the price of freedom.
Maureen Gay Bianchini was born in Edmonton on February 27, 1959, the 11th of 13 children of Albert and Lillian Bianchini. She is of Italian and Métis descent. Her parents served in the Second World War, her father with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and her mother with the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Corps. On returning to civilian life, her father worked as a bus driver, while her mother stayed home to raise their children.
Maureen grew up in a home in Edmonton’s north end, where home movie footage showed the rumble of army trucks passing in front of her house. Both of her parents were active in veterans’ groups.
Tragedy shaped her life just as much as the military. At age 12, Maureen lost her mother to cancer. This caused her family structure to fall apart. Neglect and abuse were the outcome and, at 14 years old, Maureen went to live with the Stewarts, the family of her school friend Susan. Maureen remained under their care while attending high school. She began working part-time at the Waterloo Ford dealership and stayed on for years after graduating. She later met and married the owner’s son, the love of her life, Randall Purvis.
Determined to break the cycle of abuse she had witnessed, Maureen looked for opportunities to help bring about change. Barely out of high school, she volunteered with the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse and later with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. There, she met five-year-old Patrick Hughson, whom she took under her wing, offering the same care and love she had received from Susan’s mother Judy Stewart. The program has had a lasting impact on Maureen’s life. She and Patrick remain close to this day.
All the while, Maureen kept the promise she had made to her mother – to not forget her on Remembrance Day. Year after year, she visited her mother’s headstone at Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton, laying a poppy to honour her service. At first, she made the annual trip alone on her bike. She kept up the tradition with her high school boyfriend and then her husband, including her two daughters as soon as they could walk.
Each year, with the cemetery visit complete, Maureen and her family would pause at the cenotaph and look out across the cold, silent sea of headstones in Beechmount’s Field of Honour. Her daughters began asking why the other headstones did not get poppies. As they grew older, her youngest daughter said, “Mom, why don’t they all have one?” Maureen decided to act.
In 2011, she founded No Stone Left Alone with the support of her family and friends. Thanks to serendipitous networking, she met a young lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces who brought 80 soldiers – including veterans fresh from Afghanistan – to NSLA’s first poppy-laying at Beechmount. A chance meeting with Alberta’s Minister of Education led her to contact two schools that sent students to take part. A friend captured the barebones proceedings on video. To Maureen’s surprise, the scene’s raw emotions put her gathering on the front pages of the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun the next day.
With so many lonely headstones and her organization now receiving notice, Maureen searched for ways to expand. She recalled the chaotic Remembrance Day commemorations from her own school days. And as a long-time volunteer at her daughters’ schools, she knew their commemorations were equally lacking. Without a sense of emotional investment or active participation, students were ignoring the solemnities and failing to appreciate the history and individuals behind them.
Maureen realized that the key to ongoing remembrance involved engaging youth in more meaningful and personal memorials. Students would truly grasp the significance of veterans’ sacrifices for Canada by learning about soldiers’ stories and then physically placing poppies on their headstones, saying the soldiers’ names aloud as they did so. The result would be a bond between students and veterans that transcended death.
Suddenly, those brave Canadians who had endured the clouds of poison gas at Ypres found glory at Vimy Ridge, and who stormed ashore at Juno Beach in Normandy to liberate Europe would come alive again, no longer just names on a list. Kids would understand that the fallen had been people like them once, people who had put aside hopes and dreams to leave home in dark days and do their duty.
Her organization’s mission was clear: safeguarding the memory of Canada’s veterans, ensuring national respect and gratitude for all Canadian men and women who have lost their lives in the service of peace at home and abroad. The simple yet powerful act of leaving no stone alone would inspire the next generation to remember those who came before and fought for their freedoms.
Maureen, along with her husband Randall, began reaching out to more schools and cold-calling cemeteries as her vision for NSLA grew. By the third year of operations, NSLA had all of Edmonton covered, with more schools on waiting lists to rotate in as word spread about the organization and its incredible impact on students. Leaders began to get involved too, including mayors, premiers, Lieutenant Governors and now Governor General, Mary Simon, who is the patron of No Stone Left Alone.
With success has come increased exposure. NSLA has expanded into every province in Canada. Tens of thousands of military members have been honoured, so far. Global TV has taken on the responsibility of livestreaming NSLA’s main event at Beechmount Cemetery every year, hosting a fundraising special last year and producing a half-hour special on the organization this year.
NSLA has also attracted interest from other countries. Requests for Maureen and her team to hold similar services have come from as far afield as South Africa and England. The organization has found a foothold in Europe, where gratitude to Canadian soldiers for their selflessness in the struggle against tyranny remains strong. NSLA expects to hold four ceremonies in France and will return to Poland this year, as well.
Despite these spectacular results, Maureen’s focus has not shifted. She is dedicated to keeping the past in the present and future public consciousness, helping each generation to appreciate the price they paid for our freedoms. She still encourages all students to send her reflection letters, explaining what they learned by participating in the ceremonies, and she receives an ever-increasing volume of messages and calls from students eager to explain how the program has profoundly affected them.
No Stone Left Alone continues to collaborate closely with teachers to develop children’s understanding of Canadian military history and to prepare them for the poppy laying. Maureen’s organization contracted with a consulting firm specializing in education to create an NSLA-focused lesson plan for the classroom.
Her administrative skills, a desire to share the credit and a willingness to admit that she does not have all the answers have helped NSLA grow beyond its humble origins. Today, it is an established non-profit with a small staff, a recognized fundraising campaign and the enthusiastic support of governments, militaries and dignitaries across Canada and Europe. Maureen and Randall, along with their two daughters, run the foundation. Her children and grandchildren have all contributed to NSLA.
Maureen’s dedication to NSLA has been recognized with many honours, including Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), Laurel Gold Award (2014), Global Television’s Women of Vision (2014), Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation (2015), Senate Volunteer Award (2017) and Meritorious Service Medal (2021). In 2022, Maureen will receive the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta).
Maureen has stayed true to her goal of seeing that one day all military headstones have a poppy placed in their honour, with no stone left alone and no name left to fade away. Her dream is for her organization to keep growing, securing veterans an honoured place in Canadians’ hearts and minds, where they truly belong.
Maureen lives in Edmonton with her husband Randall. Their daughters Sara and Keely grew up participating in NSLA, as have their four wonderful grandchildren, Elle, Petra, Beckett and Hudson.