The Royal Canadian Legion marks the centenary of the poppy in Canada

While many Canadians are familiar with the red poppy pins handed by the Royal Canadian Legion each November, not everyone knows its history, and how it became a symbol of remembrance in Canada 100 years ago.

The poppy’s legacy dates back even longer than a century ago, in 1915 during the First World War, when Canadian surgeon, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, immortalized the flower in his poem In Flanders Fields.

He was serving in Belgium, during the Second Battle of Ypres, and tending to wounded Canadian soldiers.

According to the Canadian War Museum’s senior historian Tim Cook, McRae was a gifted poet, and he also suffered from shell-shock, which is referred to today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“One of the ways he dealt with that war experience was by writing his poetry,” said Cook.

McCrae, like many soldiers in Belgium and France at the time, was struck by the resilient bright red poppies that continued to grow amid so much death and destruction, and wrote about them in his poem.

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Cook says it was likely startling to see “the poppy emerging from and in contrast to a shattered landscape closer to the front,”

The poem was published later the same year in Punch Magazine, and was a smash hit in Canada and beyond. So much so, it several women, to begin making poppies that people could wear, as both a symbol and as a fundraising effort.

A French woman, Anna Guerin, started making cloth poppies to raise money for war-torn France. Later, she pitched the poppy pin to Britain and Canada.

“She presented that idea to the precursor to the Royal Canadian Legion in 1921, the Great War Veterans Association, and that idea was accepted,” explained Nujma Bond, spokesperson for the Legion. “Here we are 100 years later with the poppy that remains a striking symbol of remembrance in Canada.”

Guerin’s fabric poppies took off, throughout the commonwealth.

There was also an American woman, Moina Michael, who petitioned the American Legion to adopt the Poppy as a symbol of Remembrance. Today some Americans still wear them in the spring, near Memorial day.

The look of the poppy has evolved over the years. Today in Canada the it’s made out of plastic, while in the United Kingdom it is made of cardboard.

The Legion distributes the poppy pin each year during its poppy campaign leading up to Remembrance Day. The poppies are free, but it does take donations. This year it will distribute 20 million traditional poppy pins across Canada.

“All of the funds raised locally, are used locally,” says Bond, adding the money raised goes towards services to help veterans.

“They can receive emergency funding if they need it,” she said. “They can receive help and advice on where to go if they perhaps need some sort of peer support. They can also have help filling out their forms that they need to fill out to receive benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada.”

To commemorate the poppy’s 100th anniversary in Canada, the Legion has issued a vintage replica of Guerin’s original cloth pin.

It’s also selling a limited edition digital NFT, a piece of online artwork called The Immortal Poppy.

“They actually gathered a genuine poppy from Flanders fields in Belgium,” says Bond. “That poppy was taken by an artist and reproduced digitally.”

Bond adds there are 100 copies available for purchase using crypto currency, and each is currently valued at $550.

“It’s a way to remember our veterans perpetually because this will remain online in the digital world forever.”

Read More: The Royal Canadian Legion marks the centenary of the poppy in Canada

You might also like