Only a few countries use poppies to remember their servicemen and women killed in conflict. The Royal British Legion started this tradition 1921 and today Canada, Australia and New Zealand and parts of the United States continue it.
This Wednesday is Remembrance Day in Canada when, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we pay tribute to the 65,000 Canadians who died wearing a Canadian uniform in all our wars.
But those ceremonies this year will be virtual. Parades and wreath-laying have been cancelled, including in Toronto, although the National War Memorial in Ottawa will host a drastically diminished ceremony with a maximum of 100 people.
Also much diminished will be the sight of veterans selling poppies on our downtown streets – and with that, the flood of dollars from their purchase dwindling to a trickle into the coffers of the Royal Canadian Legion whose future is dire without those funds.
We can still buy poppies at convenience and other stores, and this year I urge you to buy one for each side of your beating heart – the one that says “thank you” for making the ultimate sacrifice, and the other that says “please” keep this kind of tradition alive. As Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
But you can also buy your poppies at www.mypoppy.ca. Even better, you can personalize them. My friend, Robin Lecky, who flagged this idea, dedicated his to his father-in-law, Bill Boivin, who served in Europe in WWII. Margaret Atwood is dedicating hers to Brigadier General T.G. Gibson, her late husband Graeme’s father who fought in Italy. Mine are dedicated to my father who fought in the Pacific in WWII and to my brother Jim who fought in the Korean War.
So, just make a donation in support of our veterans and their families, fill in the details, and you’ll get an email to claim your poppy. You can then follow the prompts to post your poppy to your social media platforms where you can add personal stories and photos.
There are two things that make Canada different from every other country around poppies and Remembrance Day.
First, the whole idea came from the poem, In Flanders Fields, which was written by John McRae, a Canadian doctor and poet from Guelph who served in the trenches in World War I. The opening line — “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow” – is known the world over and gave rise to poppies becoming the world’s most recognised symbol for soldiers who’ve died in conflict.
Second, last Friday Whole Foods Canada became the first company anywhere on earth to ban the wearing of poppies.
Here’s how it began, as reported by the CBC: “U.S.-based Whole Foods Market says poppies aren’t allowed under its recently updated uniform policy, which affects employees at its 14 locations across Canada.”
“But the company won’t say why.”
“An employee of the Whole Foods in Ottawa says she was told by a supervisor that wearing the poppy would be seen as ‘supporting a cause.’”
“I was basically told … if they allowed this one particular cause, then it would open up the door so that they would have to allow or consider allowing other causes,” said the employee.
“I was in shock actually. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it.”
Within a day, Doug Ford said he’d introduce legislation that prohibits companies from telling staff they can’t wear a poppy. Hours later, every political leader in Ottawa piled on, calling Whole Foods’ decision “stupid,” “shameful,” and “ridiculous.” By Saturday, Whole Foods had reversed itself saying, “Our intention was never to single out the poppy or to suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day.”
But Whole Foods’ real problem is its failure to single out poppy-wearing being any different from a political cause.
Remembering the 65,000 Canadians who died on our behalf is not a political cause. Neither is wearing “Canada” masks next July 1st or whenever we win our next Olympic Gold Medal.
Patriotism isn’t a cause. Remembering the dead isn’t a cause.
If Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon, wants to understand the difference, I suggest they make a stonking donation to the Royal Canadian Legion so that we’ll remember who really deserves our remembrance on Wednesday.