How your poppy can now tell stories of Canadian veterans

The new poppies are designed to look like the old ones. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Legion - image credit)
The new poppies are designed to look like the old ones. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Legion - image credit)

Remembrance Day poppies have become more environmentally friendly this year, and they are also giving Canadians the opportunity to learn more about the veterans who fought for their country.

While there are still some old-style poppies in circulation, the new ones are biodegradable, made from a mix of paper and cotton velvet. Wreaths laid at cenotaphs are also now biodegradable, like the poppies made of paper and velvet with real moss and plaster.

The Royal Canadian Legion distributes hundreds of thousands of wreaths and 20 million poppies every year.

"That's a high number and to know that they are now going to be biodegradable is really a wonderful thing," said Nujma Bond, the legion's communication manager.

"From a distance and even close up it's hard to tell because they're really designed to look like the ones people have been seeing, but the back you can tell it's a paper."

The only thing not biodegradable about the new poppies is the pin, which Bond points out is recyclable. The legion is still looking at biodegradable options for the pin, she said.

Every poppy tells a story

And that is not the only thing new about poppies.

The Royal Canadian Legion has created a mobile website that allows you to scan your poppy and read stories of Canadian veterans.

"These are personal stories. They are from Canadians like you and I. They talk about where they served, they talk about their personal interests," said Bond.

"It's a way to engage people in the personal lives of people as well, so they can better relate to them."

The Royal Canadian Legion
The Royal Canadian Legion

This is the way it works.

Open the browser on your phone, and navigate to poppystories.ca. Touch the scan-my-poppy button, and line your poppy up in the window. Once the site recognizes your poppy it will open up one of dozens of stories of Canadian veterans.

A nurse's story

One of those stories is of Rena Maude McLean of Souris, P.E.I.

Souris Visitor Centre
Souris Visitor Centre

McLean was born June 14, 1879. She left the province to go to college, studying at Mount Allison and Halifax Ladies College, and eventually nursing at the Newport Hospital in Rhode Island. She advanced to become the head nurse in the operating room at the Henry Heywood Memorial Hospital in Gardner, Mass.

She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in September 1914, a few weeks after the start of the First World War.

Two months later she was helping to convert a hotel in Le Touquet, France into a hospital. She also worked in hospitals in Britain and Greece. In 1918 she was assigned to Llandovery Castle, a hospital ship that carried Canadian wounded to Halifax. On June 27 as the ship was returning to England, the Llandovery Castle was torpedoed and sunk. She and the other 13 Canadian nurses on board died.