TORONTO — With Remembrance Day right around the corner, poppies are in full bloom as Canadians wear the tiny red flower in honour of those who fought for the country.
This November, Canadians are commemorating something else, too. The poppy marks 100 years as a symbol of remembrance in Canada. First adopted on July 6, 1921 following the First World War, the poppy continues to be worn in honour of the millions of Canadians who have served and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict and peace.
Despite its long history, there are plenty of fascinating facts about the flower that may not be familiar. Here are eight things you may not know about the poppy.
1. The poppy’s use as a symbol of remembrance was inspired by a poem.
While many may be familiar with John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” it was this poem that actually inspired the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in Canada and the Commonwealth. McCrae, a lieutenant-colonel from Guelph, Ont., served as a medical officer during the First World War. He wrote the poem in May of 1915, following the death of a fellow soldier.
2. Poppies grew on battlefields because of the rubble.
“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,” is how the famous poem begins. But did you know poppies grew on battlefields because of the debris that remained? Bombardments of artillery during the First World War left fragmented remains on the fields. The lime in the rubble acted as fertilizer for the poppies, allowing them to grow. The flowers grew widely in Europe, particularly countries like France and Belgium, as a result. After the poppies had finished absorbing the lime, they began to disappear.
3. The poppy has served as a symbol of sleep and death for a long time.
According to Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were often placed on tombstones to represent eternal sleep. Some even thought the vibrant red colour guaranteed resurrection after death. Poppies were also discovered in King Tutankhamun’s tomb when he was buried around 1324 B.C. The flowers appeared on pieces of jewellery like his collar, as well as furniture. In Ancient Egypt, the poppy was a symbol of Osiris, the god of the dead.
4. Not all poppies are red.
In fact, they come in many colours such as orange, yellow, pink, white and even blue.
5. Poppies are worn on the left side.
Whether it’s on a lapel, collar or chest, poppies are worn on the left side. This is so that it stays as close to the heart as possible.
6. Poppies can be worn at any time of year.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, poppies can be worn at commemorative events throughout the year, not just on Remembrance Day. The Royal Canadian Legion states that poppies can also be worn at the funeral of a veteran, memorial services and anniversaries of significant battles, such as Vimy Ridge.
7. Poppies are used to make morphine.
While poppy seeds themselves don’t contain opium, when harvested, it’s possible for them to become coated in the substance or absorb it. The milky latex within each unripe seed is the key ingredient that is then used to create morphine, a widely known painkiller.
8. The poppy as a symbol of remembrance in Canada started with a French woman.
Inspired by McCrae’s famous poem, it was a woman named Madame Anna Guerin who persuaded the Great War Veterans Association at the time to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The French Poppy Lady herself founded a charity to help rebuild parts of France destroyed by the First World War. She made poppies out of fabric and sold them as a way of raising money for veterans’ needs, and those most impacted by the war. The idea was adopted in Canada on July 6, 1921.
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