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How We Came to Wear Poppies as a Symbol of Remembrance

The poppy is a familiar sight on the coats of Canadians in November.

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 tell how thick poppies grew over the graves of soldiers in the area of Flanders, France. Fields that were barren before battle suddenly exploded with the flowers after the fighting ended. During the war, the chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing the poppies to thrive.

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, a Canadian Medical Officer during the First World War was the first person to introduce the poppy to Canada and the Commonwealth. McCrae penned the now famous poem “In Flanders Fields” on a scrap of paper in May 1915 the day after the death of a fellow soldier.

McCrae’s poem was published in Punch Magazine in December 1915, and the poem later served as inspiration three years later for Moina Michael, an American teacher who 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. Madame 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 5th, 1921.

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

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