A Gift of Gratitude
By Terri Mason
Quilts of Valour Canada began with a gift of compassion.
In 2006, Edmonton, Alta., quilter Lezley Zwaal read about three Canadian Armed Forces members recovering in hospital from injuries they received in Afghanistan. She decided to help the one way she knew how: she made each one a quilt.
She thought it would be a one-time gesture, her way of saying “Thank You” and giving some comfort. She was not prepared for the impact of meeting these young men and learning first-hand about their injuries. It made a big impression on Lezley, and from this emotional encounter, Quilts of Valour Canada was born.
Today, the Society she founded has at least 50 volunteers across Canada. Their mission is to ensure that all Canadian military members, past and present, who are ill or injured due to their service and sacrifice to our country, are recognized and honoured with a Quilt of Valour.
The concept of QOVC resonates with quilters, who know the intrinsic value of something as tangible and personal as a handmade quilt. The vast majority of the sewists are mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and daughters, and like every Canadian family, each has a member of the military somewhere in their lineage.
Since its humble beginnings, the Society has earned the support of fabric designers, quilt guilds and corporate sponsors. The Royal Canadian Legion has donated thousands of dollars to QOVC, and Janome sewing machines is a major corporate sponsor. Then there are the hundreds of individuals who choose to help — from quilting to raising funds, designing websites, to mailing fabric. There is no headquarters and no wages — everyone is a volunteer, and each person makes a difference.
“It’s said by many that Volunteers make the world go round,” says QOVCC President Linda Gerein. “and that is certainly true for Quilts of Valour Canada. We couldn’t do what we do without the help and support of our volunteers.”
There are many ways that quilters can contribute to the Society. An individual or guild can donate a completed quilt. Others new to quilting or with time (or space) constraints can opt to create Hug Blocks, which are gathered up and shipped to guilds or quilting bees to piece together a quilt. Each project is finished with an official QOVC label with the names of the recipient and the quilters involved. Each is described as a “handmade hug, stitched with love and gratitude by grateful Canadians.”
Personally, I “discovered” Quilts of Valour during the pandemic and have created several Hug Blocks for the cause. There is an extra level of care one takes when creating something so special. The pride (and trust me, excitement) is palpable when you see the photos of a quilt presentation that was created out of Hug Blocks — because one of those blocks just may have been sewn by you.
Pamela Holmes is a long-time volunteer, and her official title is Hug Blocks Coordinator. One of the contests QOVC held earlier this year was open to those who sent in Hug Blocks made with Northcott’s Oh Canada! material — first prize was an official QOV Janome 3160 sewing machine — one of 30 top-end machines the company gifted QOVC to raise funds.
“For the six months we had the Hug Block contest, people sent in over 5,800 individual blocks,” says Holmes. “I then wrote the city or town on the blocks and repackaged them into 30 sets so sewers who wanted to complete a full quilt could request them, and I would mail them out.”
Individuals or guilds can register as a QOVC volunteer (it’s free) and can request a kit of blocks to make a finished quilt for a veteran.
Creating a quilt is a gift of compassion, gratitude, and hope from the mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and daughters of Canada — and presented to those who are still paying the price to keep our nation safe.
Today, there are approximately 185,000 Canadian veterans. To date, QOVC has presented 16,930 quilts, and yes, Quilts of Valour needs you.
“On behalf of QOVC I’d like to express my deep appreciation for the time and dedication that all of our volunteers provide,” says Linda Gerein. “Thank you.”
Request a Quilt
Canadian Armed Forces members, past or present, who are ill or injured due to their service to Canada, qualify for a Quilt of Valour.
Members who served in WWII, Korea, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Gulf Wars automatically qualify for a QOVC. There are many other areas of violent conflicts/theatres of war (e.g. Afghanistan), peacekeeping missions and general regular/reserve duty where members, past and present, may have suffered injury/illness due to their service, including duty within Canada and abroad. For more information, visit QuiltsofValour.ca