History of the Poppy
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 Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, a Canadian Medical Officer during the First World War. John 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. Moina 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. 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 (our predecessor) 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 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.
Thanks to the millions of Canadians who wear the Legion’s lapel Poppy each November, the little red flower has never died, and the memories of those who fell in battle remain strong.
How to Wear a Poppy
Throughout the Remembrance period, we see Poppies worn with pride in every corner of our lives to honour our Veterans. The Royal Canadian Legion provides a Poppy Protocol to guide Canadians on appropriate and respectful wearing of the lapel Poppy. However, wearing a Poppy is a personal expression of Remembrance, and how someone chooses to wear a Poppy is always an individual choice.
How to Wear a Poppy
The Poppy should be worn with respect on the left side, over the heart. The Legion’s lapel Poppy is a sacred symbol of Remembrance and should not be affixed with any pin that obstructs the Poppy. While some have chosen to secure their Poppy with a pin, most Legion Branches provide poppy keepers, clear plastic ends that can be attached to the back of the pin so as not to obscure the Poppy yet still keep it secure.
When to wear a Poppy
The poppy should be worn during the Remembrance period, from the last Friday in October until November 11. The Legion encourages the wearing of Poppies at funerals of Veterans, and for any commemorative event such as a memorial service, or the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. As well, it is not inappropriate to wear a Poppy during other times to commemorate Fallen Veterans and it is an individual choice to do so.
How to remove a Poppy
Poppies may be worn throughout the Remembrance period, including in the evening after Remembrance Day Ceremony. Some choose to remove their Poppy at the end of the day on November 11. Some choose to remove their Poppy at the conclusion of the ceremony and place their Poppy on the cenotaph or on a wreath as a sign of respect. This has become a poignant tradition each year at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa as thousands of Poppies are placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
When a Poppy is removed, it should be stored appropriately or it may be disposed of respectfully. We encourage anyone who finds a Poppy that has fallen to the ground to pick it up and brush it off so that it can be kept or disposed of respectfully.
While Poppies are always free, The Royal Canadian Legion gratefully accepts donations to the Poppy Fund, which directly supports Canada’s Veterans and their families in need.
Canadians outside of the country can get a Poppy from Royal Canadian Legion Branches in the U.S., Mexico, Germany and the Netherlands, or through their Canadian Embassy or Consulate.
We invite everyone across the country to honour and remember Canada’s Veterans by proudly wearing this symbol of Remembrance and taking a moment to reflect.