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How A Photographer Is Keeping Alive The Memories Of Canadians Who Died On D-Day

"Canada embodies helping each other out and being there for each other."

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Thousands of Canadian soldiers who died in World War II are buried in war cemeteries in France. But for most relatives, visiting these graves can be difficult and expensive.

Chris Harris, a journalist from Regina, is helping people connect with their family histories by photographing the resting places of those buried in France.

Chris Harris

Harris started with the 65 soldiers from Saskatchewan who died on D-Day. His goal was to photograph all their graves ahead of the 75th anniversary in 2019.

But his father suggested he expand the project, so earlier this month Harris put out a call on Reddit for anyone else who wanted him to visit a relative's grave site.

He said he'd be visiting three different war cemeteries while he was in Normandy. "If you have a family member buried there, I will take a photo for you," Harris said.

And the requests poured in.

Harris told BuzzFeed Canada that he has visited American war cemeteries before, "but it was very special to be at this Canadian site." He wanted to share that experience with other Canadians who can't see it in person.

"It really makes you realize the sacrifice that was made by these young men — boys, really," he said.

"To come to a place where they'd never been before and fight for someone else's freedom, it really sunk in while walking along these rows of rows of gravestones with the maple leaf on them."

He said the reaction to his offer was overwhelmingly positive. Most people simply wanted a photo, but some had special requests.

Chris Harris

"There are a few that are special in terms of faith," he said.

"There's a tradition in the Jewish faith to place a rock, a little pebble, on the grave marker and that is supposed to symbolize that you've been there and it's a bond. ... It's a symbolic gesture and I did do that for people who requested."

Families who have received the photos have been really grateful. "The response has been absolutely tremendous," Harris said.

Chris Harris

He says he feels privileged to be able to share in families' histories in some small way.

"To me that really made it worthwhile," he said.

But most of all, Harris said doing this for others has been a way for him to connect with his own sense of what it means to be Canadian.

Chris Harris

"Canada embodies helping each other out and being there for each other — standing together as a country, acting selflessly, which really embodies what a lot of these young men did when they went to Europe to fight."

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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