The Historical Significance of the Poppy

On October 10th, the first poppy of the year was presented to Governor General David Johnston in order to mark the launch of the 91st anniversary of the annual campaign to commemorate Canadian WWI soldiers. This celebration first began as a tradition in Canada in 1922. There are no more surviving veterans of WWI alive in Canada, and as each year passes, members of an important cohort who have a first-hand connection to this war are dwindling worldwide. This year, we are reminded to stop and think about the significance of the tradition that began to honour the men and women who gave their lives to serve our country.

John McCrae's Classic Poem, In Flanders Field

Though many of us know the words to John McCrae’s “In Flanders’ Fields” by heart, not everyone is aware of the special significance of the campaign to commemorate Canadian Veterans from World War I. The poem tells us that poppies grew around the bodies of soldiers laying in the battlefields of Europe where no other plants dared to grow. According to the Royal Canadian Legion, the symbol was chosen unintentionally by a school teacher in the United States that was moved by the words of the poem and made a personal vow to remember fallen soldiers by donning the poppy. She did not recognize the gravity of her own statement until people around the world adopted the idea and sold poppies in order to raise funds for their own country’s veterans. In Canada, injured and disabled veterans hand-sewed poppies to keep the memory of their fallen friends alive in the years following WWI. This endeavour also allowed them to earn a small income for their families.

As the years pass, future generations will become further removed from one of the most important events to shape the 20th century. Throughout the month of October and leading up to Remembrance Day on November 11, I encourage you to reflect on the sacrifices made by veterans on behalf of our country. We are also challenged to take time to reflect on the important role of the Canada’s Reserve Forces in preserving peace and security.