The YMCA’s history with the Poppy
The appearance of brilliant red poppies on lapels across Canada is an annual symbol of the coming of Remembrance Day. Each year, over 18 million of these flowers are sold in Canada and help us acknowledge the armistice that ended the First World War on November 11, 1918.
The symbolic meaning of the poppy came in 1915, after Canadian soldier and military doctor, John McCrae, a physician who served in the Canadian Field Artillery, wrote his now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” After the death of a friend, he noticed the brilliant poppies that had managed to grow despite the devastation to the landscape caused by the war.
When Miss Moina Michael, who was working for the Overseas YMCA Secretaries in New York City, stumbled on McCrae’s poem in Ladies Home Journal, she made a personal pledge to “keep the faith.” She vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. It would become an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died.”
In 1920, at the YMCA at Columbia University, Moina Michael met and shared her decision to wear a poppy with Madame E. Guérin, a visitor from France. After their meeting, Madame Guérin began selling handmade poppies around Armistice Day to raise money for poor children in war-torn areas of Europe.
Madame Guérin visited Canada in 1921 and convinced the Great War Veterans Association (now The Royal Canadian Legion) to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in aid of fundraising. In November 1921 poppies were first distributed and the Canadian tradition of wearing a poppy.
Story taken from the YMCA of Oakville.