Remembrance Day services will take place across Greater Victoria on Nov. 11, 2019. (Victoria Tronina/Unsplash)

The history of the poppy

  • Nov. 11, 2021 9:30 a.m.

Each November, poppies bloom on the lapels and collars of millions of Canadians.

The significance of the poppy can be traced back to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, over 110 years before being adopted in Canada.

Records from that time indicate how thick poppies grew over the graves of soldiers in the area of Flanders, France. Fields that had been barren before battle exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended.

During the tremendous bombardments of the war, the chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing the “popaver rhoeas” to thrive. When the war ended, the lime was quickly absorbed and the poppy began to disappear again.

The person who first introduced the poppy to Canada and the Commonwealth was Lt.-Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ont., a Canadian medical officer during the First World War.

McCrae penned the poem “In Flanders Fields” on a scrap of paper in May 1915 on the day following the death of a fellow soldier. Little did he know then that those 13 lines would become enshrined in the hearts and minds of all who would wear them.

McCrae’s poem was published in Punch Magazine in December of that same year, and the poem later served as inspiration three years later for Moina Michael, an American teacher. Michael made a pledge to always wear a poppy as a sign of Remembrance.

During a visit to the United States in 1920, a French woman named Madame Guerin learned of the custom. Guerin decided to make and sell poppies to raise money for children in war-torn areas of France.

The Great War Veteran’s Association in Canada officially adopted the poppy as its Flower of Remembrance on July 5, 1921.

Today, the poppy is worn each year during the Remembrance period to honour Canada’s fallen. The Royal Canadian Legion also encourages the wearing of a poppy for the funeral of a veteran and for any commemorative event honouring fallen veterans.

It is not inappropriate to wear a poppy during other times to commemorate fallen veterans and it is an individual choice to do so, as long as it’s worn appropriately.

– Source: Royal Canadian Legion