Each November, Poppies blossom on the lapels and collars of Canadians. The Poppy Campaign inspires Canadians to Remember.
In Canada, the Poppy has stood as a visual symbol of our Remembrance since 1921. However, its presence over the graves of soldiers, and in the fields of
honour, was noted as early as the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars. The reason for its adoption over 100 years later in Canada was due to, in no small part, to a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae and his now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”. During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, John McCrae. As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
We are the Dead. Short days ago
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
This poem, would serve as inspiration three years later for an American teacher, Moina Michael, who made a personal pledge after reading the poem to always wear a Poppy as a sign of Remembrance. In 1920, during a visit to the United States, a French woman, Madame Guerin, learned of the custom and decided to sell handmade Poppies to raise money for the children in war-torn areas of the country. Following her example, the Poppy was officially adopted by the Great War Veteran’s Association in Canada (our predecessor) as its Flower of Remembrance on July 5, 1921.
The Poppy has stood as a symbol of Remembrance, our visual pledge to never forget those Canadians who have fallen in war and military operations.
Although its history surely demonstrates the international connections of the Poppy, it is today that the importance of the Poppy as the Flower of Remembrance in Canada is even more evident. Each November, these red flowers can be seen on the lapels and collars of so many, and this single act ensures that our memories of those who died in battle will remain strong.
Thus, the Poppy also serves as a symbol of unity for those who recognize the sacrifices that were made for their freedom, and it forges a bond between people of all ages, not only within Canada, but around the world. As well, donations received during the Poppy Campaign are held in trust and the usage is clearly defined.
The Poppy stands internationally as a “symbol of collective reminiscence”, as other countries have also adopted its image to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.