For 100 years, the red poppy has been Canada’s official symbol of remembrance.
In the two weeks leading up to November 11, they have become synonymous with Remembrance Day and memorializing the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for King, Queen and Country.
In a typical year, a representation of the blazing flower can be seen just around every corner, particularly on the lapels of those who pause each year to make a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund.
But, as residents were encouraged to stay home in the lead up to Remembrance Day last year, the poppy wasn’t as visible as it once was, and the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is looking to turn things around as restrictions continue to lift and there are more opportunities than ever before to contribute to the Legion’s Poppy Fund.
From the traditional flower made out of velveteen plastic, to earrings, facemasks, scarves, and special hand-made poppies designed to harken back to their first introduction in 1921, you can make a contribution – and a statement – beyond your lapel or the outside of your jacket.
Not sure what the best poppy option is for you? Well, your best bet might be to ask Bonnie Robertson, who joined the Aurora Legion just last year and has now taken on the mantle of Poppy Chair for the local branch.
And this isn’t simply down to her position within this year’s campaign.
Sitting down to speak to The Auroran last Thursday to discuss the official kick-off of this week’s campaign, she provided no shortage of inspiration: from her face mask emblazoned with the poppy, poppy-shaped earrings, and even a manicure with poppies on every other finger.
All these are available from the Legion in the lead-up to Remembrance Day with one possible exception: if you want a Remembrance Day manicure, you’ll likely have to seek that out on your own!
“This year is a little less restrictive than it was last year because we were still in lockdown,” says Ms. Robertson. “We had to get poppy boxes and they had to sit for 72 hours before we could put them out [due to sanitation requirement]. This year, I think we might have a more successful campaign because people can go into restaurants, we can tag again this year at the Beer Store, Walmart and different places – and getting a veteran out in a uniform generates a lot more donations than just a poppy box sitting on a counter.
“We’re calling a lot more places ahead of time and are hoping to get into a lot more stores this year and with the schools being open again, we’re hoping that we can get a lot more visibility there and more education in schools because they can now have their services again.”
Last year, the Aurora Legion’s Poppy Campaign brought in close to $40,000 – but as impressive as this number sounds, it was about half of what they would bring in in a pre-pandemic year. With these new opportunities out there thanks to the loosening of many restrictions related to the pandemic, Ms. Robertson hopes they can crack the $60,000 fundraising mark.
New wireless poppy boxes which allow members of the public to make a donation to the fund with the simple tap of their debit or credit cards at the point of purchase is another helpful advance born out of the pandemic that will continue this year.
This money, she stresses, does not go into the local Legion’s coffers. Instead, 100 per cent of all proceeds go directly to benefit veterans and their families.
“The most important thing I don’t think a lot of people know, for me, is the poppy money goes directly to them,” she says. “It doesn’t go to pay our rent and hydro, it goes directly to veterans and their families.”
One particular program, however, is getting special emphasis this year, according to Legion President Lori Hoyes.
“A big thing we’re focusing on this year is PTSD support dogs, and that is something that has been really brought to light,” says Ms. Hoyes. “At our recent convention, there were two veterans there with their support dogs and the Poppy Chair for the Ontario Provincial Command had a chance to sit down and talk with these veterans and realized a dog can make a world of difference, but it is a huge cost to train a dog and that is something we like to support through our poppy fund.
“There is also a big focus on Leave the Streets Behind, which is an Ontario Command program that a lot of our money goes to support as well. That is for homeless veterans. In Toronto or wherever, there are lots of veterans that just find it very difficult when they transitioned from the Military back to civilian life and it is a big thing. I just want to see everybody remembering those who have sacrificed and those who served their country.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran