Thursday, Nov. 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada. It is a time for Canadians to pause from the busyness of daily life to honour our country’s veterans.
Remembrance Day was first observed throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919. It was known as Armistice Day to commemorate the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 am. Initially, Armistice Day was held on the Monday of the week of Nov. 11. However, in 1931 the Canadian Government passed a bill to change the name to Remembrance Day and observe it only on Nov. 11.
The first Remembrance Day was on Nov. 11, 1931.
Every year, at 11 am on Nov. 11, Canadians pause for a moment of silence to honour and remember the people who served and continue to serve Canada in times of war, conflict and peace.
Another significant part of Remembrance Day is the poppy. Every year in late October and early November, bright red poppies can be seen adorning lapels and collars across the country. Poppies are typically worn with respect on the left side, over the heart.
The red poppy has long been a symbol of remembrance. Its significance dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, more than 100 years before it was adopted in Canada. The flower flourished along the Western Front, which stretched through France and Belgium from the Swiss border to the North Sea and often grew over mass graves left by battles.
The poppy was first introduced to Canada by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a physician, author and poet who served as a Canadian Medical Officer during the First World War. In the spring of 1915, he was stationed near Ypres, Belgium, in a region traditionally called Flanders.
On May 2, 1915, a close friend of McCrae’s was killed in action and buried in a makeshift grave, alongside many other fallen soldiers. Wild red poppies were beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the gravesites. McCrae was inspired and penned a short poem, In Flanders Fields, the next day.
In Flanders Fields was first published in England’s Punch magazine in December 1915, and it soon became the most popular poem about the First World War.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae
May 3, 1915
(As published in Punch magazine, Dec. 8, 1915)
It was one of the last poems McCrae wrote. He died of pneumonia in January 1918.
In Flanders Fields was translated into many languages and even inspired the creation of the remembrance poppy campaign.
A French woman, Anna Guérin, founded a charity to help rebuild regions of France damaged in the war. She read McCrae’s poem and was inspired to create and sell fabric poppies to raise money. Later she presented the idea to France’s allies, including The Royal Canadian Legion, then known as The Great War Veterans Association.
In 1921 the poppy was officially adopted as a symbol of remembrance in Canada and has since been worn by Canadians every year during the Remembrance period to honour Canada’s fallen veterans.
Vancouver’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony at Victory Square will be held online again this year due to COVID-19. It starts at 10:30 am (PST) and will be live-streamed on the City of Vancouver’s Facebook page.
Canada’s National Remembrance Day ceremony, held in Ottawa every year, will also be live-streamed on The Royal Canadian Legion’s Facebook page and broadcast on national Canadian news networks.
Published on Nov. 10, 2021.