Students flock to Memorial Gardens for annual duck release

Students chase after a pair of ducks in an effort to get them into the pond at Memorial Gardens Thursday. (Peter lozinski/Daily Herald)

There were no fowl feelings at the duck launch at Memorial Gardens Thursday.

The annual event, full of quacking, cheering and a handful of tears, is a celebratory affair, where children who have raised ducks from their first stages of infancy release them into the wild where they will live out the rest of their lives as a part of the memorial gardens.

“It’s fantastic. Each year it seems to get bigger and better,” said Don Cody of Prince Albert Memorial Gardens.

“This year it’s particularly good because we’ve got such a fantastic day. It’s just one of the things we do at the cemetery to invite people over to watch the children with the ducks, and the parents and grandparents come over to visit their loved ones who are resting here with us. It’s just a fantastic day.”

This year, ten schools and about 300 students and staff attended from Vincent Massey, St. Michael, St. Anne, Spruce Home and St. Francis Schools, as well as TLC DayCare in Birch Hills, Tiny Tot Day Care and Hope’s Home. About a month ago, the kids got their ducklings, barely a day old. They’ve raised them over the past month. Thursday, it was time to let the ducks swim free.

Many of the ducks were hesitant to leave their surrogate mothers and fathers. But they quickly coalesced together, quacking and preening in a corner of the pond.

“It’s quite something to see,” Cody said.

“They’ve looked after these ducks for a month and the ducks don’t want to leave them. That’s how well they’ve been looked after by these children.”

The children took it fairly well. Most were happy to see their feathered friends go off to live in the wild. Cody said the ducks, historically, thrive at the gardens.

“We hardly lose any ducks. It works quite well,” Cody said.

“We have to appreciate what the schools and daycares do. It really is a heartfelt thing for us at the cemetery for us to see those kids and the smiles on their faces, and yet at the same time, a few tears after they have to get rid of their pets.”

Kristy Thompson of Hope’s Home said it’s a great experience for the children each year.

“It’s been awesome,” she said. “My family got to take them home the first weekend, which was a lot of fun for them, and these guys have been outside with them all the way through. It’s really neat to see.”

While the ducks benefit from loving hands raising them through the first few weeks of their lives, the children receive a benefit too.

“Just raising the ducks themselves and seeing how they grow is unreal,’ Thompson said.

“They take away quite a lot.”

At least for the Hope’s Home kids, there weren’t a lot of tears. Thompson said the preschool class was excited to see the ducks go off into their natural habitat.

Those positive experiences are what the staff at Memorial Gardens wants to see. Cody said they will likely continue the tradition in 2019.

“It’s a nice venture, it’s great to see and it brings people around,” he said.

“All summer we get parents, grandparents and great-grandparents coming here with their children. They can visit their loved ones in the cemetery and the children can find out it’s not really that scary a place to come to.”