ENDURING SYMBOL: The poppy turns 100

The enduring symbol of Remembrance Day was inspired by a poem, and an idea to help

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It is the enduring symbol of Remembrance Day.

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And it has been with Canada for 100 years.

“The first were worn in 1921 on that Armistice Day,” said Tim Cook of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. “It did take several years for it to become a little more common.”

It was put on the path to common use by a French woman Anna Guerin, who had the idea to distribute poppies on Armistice Day.

Her goal: To raise money for veterans, and to remember the 66,000 Canadians who sacrificed their lives in the First World War.

Guerin, inspired by John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields , eventually became known as “The Poppy Lady from France.”

In July 1921 the Great War Veterans Association — which in 1925 became the Royal Canadian Legion — adopted the poppy as the flower of Remembrance.

In 1931, Armistice Day became known as Remembrance Day.

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“There is something about Remembrance Day, and there is something about the poppy as these enduring symbols that seem to matter to Canadians,” Cook said.

Canadians were dealing with grief and loss after the war.

It was a time when, coming to grips with the terrible casualties, Canadians were building memorials across the country.

With those memorials springing up, and especially with the Great Depression putting many veterans in need, “the poppy fits into that memorial landscape,” Cook explained.

The campaign has become a life-blood for the Royal Canadian Legion, which has close to 250,000 members.

Its most recent figures show 19 million poppies were distributed in 2018.

More than $15 million dollars was disbursed between October 2018 and October 2019 to support veterans and their families.

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“It resonates very deeply. People know what it means,” said Nujma Bond, national spokesperson and communications manager for the Royal Canadian Legion.

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“The poppy has been such a strong symbol now for a century, that for most of us from more recent generations, it is the symbol we have known.”

  1. Don Cherry is pictured on Nov. 9, 2021.

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  2. Hockey commentator Don Cherry in Mississauga, Ont. on Tuesday November 9, 2021. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia

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  3. Remembrance Day ceremonies were held across the city like this one at the East York Civic Centre cenotaph which was sparsely attended yet still carried on. Wreaths were laid and people stood at attention while a group of RCAF Harvard trainers flew overhead on Wednesday November 11, 2020. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

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A symbol that is a salute to valiant service.

“Something qualitatively will be lost when we have lost our veterans from the Second World War or from the Korean War. And I would like to think that Remembrance Day will continue to resonate,” Cook said.

Their accomplishments and legacies remain timeless.

Like the poppy that honours them.

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