Poppy holds strong as symbol of remembrance
Matthew Coutts, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, November 7, 2011 5:59AM EST
Each year as the weather gets colder and Canadians bundle into thicker jackets, hundreds of thousands of us make the odd and simple gesture of pinning a small piece of red velvet to our lapel.
The pieces of flimsy plastic cut in the shape of a four-leaf flower are affixed to our breast -- always on the left side -- and receive a level of care comparable to that of a national flag or a letter written by a deceased loved one.
For 90 years, Canadians have been wearing the poppy pin with great pride and solemnity during the two-week period leading up to Remembrance Day on November 11.
"You see the poppy boxes in various locations, you see the various companies that participate. I think the expressions of admiration and remembrance is pretty high with Canadians still," said Bill Maxwell, senior program officer with the Royal Canadian Legion.
"I think it is very much a part of the Canadian tradition to wear a poppy and express themselves that way."
But this symbol of the sacrifices of war has seen pressures from the outside world recently, both by anti-violence dissenters and by its own success as a recognizable and idyllic totem.
Earlier this year the Legion requested that a biker club made up of war veterans remove the poppy from their club logo, saying that its inclusion was trademark infringement.
The club says the request is a slap in the face, considering the club's membership is comprised of former soldiers and the poppy is an internationally-recognized symbol of honour.
In recent years the Royal Canadian Legion has also been forced to address the appearance of the white poppy, a symbol embraced by anti-war groups to oppose violence.
The implied suggestion is that if a pure white poppy celebrates peace, its blood-red brother somehow glorifies violence. Some groups have even gone so far as to distribute the white flower pins ahead of Remembrance Day.
White poppies were first adopted by British widows following the First World War and have made common appearances in British culture for decades. But their appearance in Canada over the past few years has caused growing controversy.
The Royal Canadian Legion says the white poppies denigrated the memorial holiday, even suggesting last year that their distribution breached a trademark held by the Legion.
"The Legion takes exception to that because the poppy as we know it represents remembrance, and represents the sacrifices that soldiers made so that we could enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today," Maxwell said.
"There are other opportunities for other groups or other people to use whatever symbols they want."
Since the pin's introduction in 1921, members of the Royal Canadian Legion have politely asked passersby in cities and towns across the country to take a poppy in exchange for a small donation.
The Legion raises roughly $16.5 million each year through the poppy campaign, all of which is spent within that local community to pay for medical equipment, home services, and long-term care facilities for ex-service people in need of financial assistance.
One issue the poppy has not faced, Maxwell said, is a loss of interest or esteem in the eyes of the public. He said everyone from elderly veterans to young school children still choose to remember the sacrifices made in war by wearing the pin.
Despite society spinning toward virtual acts of respect -- where a poppy added to a Twitter avatar could pass as a significant gesture -- Maxwell says poppy distribution hasn't seen a decrease.
Maxwell says about 15 million poppies are made each year and distributed for personal use or to be used in wreaths laid during the thousands of ceremonies across the country.
"We try to make the distribution as wide as possible. People that use the Internet, Facebook and Twitter and so on, also go to shopping centres and also go to their school," Maxwell said.
"They are still out there. We are not tied down to our homes yet."