For over ninety years, on Nov. 11, Canadians have found their way to a small cenotaph or large public gathering to celebrate Remembrance Day and to give their respects to fallen soldiers all around the world. With multiple wars and battles to draw our attention to, it becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly when this tradition began.
After all, Remembrance Day wasn’t a chance occurrence plotted on some random date because someone wanted to honour the valiant men and women who fought for our freedom. In fact, before the end of World War One, Remembrance Day didn’t exist. So where did it come from?
On Nov. 11, 1918, an armistice was signed by Germany, marking a cease-fire and the end of the fighting that had plagued Europe for four years of the First World War. The armistice became effective at 11 a.m. that day. While the war wasn’t officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, that cease-fire meant that the horrors were over.
“The War to End All Wars” had ended. On Nov. 7, 1919, King George V declared Nov. 11 as the day to remember those who were killed during the war. Originally called “Armistice Day,” it became a nationally observed event in all of the countries of the British Commonwealth – including Canada.
Here’s a fun fact; in Canada from 1921 to 1930, the “Armistice Day Act,” made it so that Thanksgiving was celebrated on Nov. 11. In 1931, our government scrapped the act altogether, changing the name to Remembrance Day, and reserving it for honouring soldiers only.
But what about the poppy? For the first few years that Remembrance Day was recognized, the little red flower wasn’t used as a symbol. Inspired by John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” an American woman by the name of Moina Michael wrote a poem called “We Shall Keep the Faith,” in which she made the promise to always wear a poppy to honour those who fought in the war.
Michael, donning her silk poppy, began to campaign to make it the United States’ symbol of remembrance, and in 1920, the National American Legion did so at one of their conferences. A French woman named Anna Guérin, who attended that conference took the idea home with her and created a line of artificial poppies much similar to the ones that are worn today.
In 1921, Guérin sent people to London to sell her poppies. The founder of the Royal British Legion loved the idea, so he adopted it for his own. Soon after, many other countries in the commonwealth adopted them too.
The Royal Canadian Legion has been selling the flowers Canada-wide for small donations to be worn the two weeks before Remembrance Day ever since. At the end of the ceremony on Nov. 11, traditionally, people will leave their poppies on the cenotaph or memorial among the many wreathes, letters and flowers set there during the service.
Remembrance Day ceremonies are now nationwide; it is hard not to find one close at hand when the big day rolls around. Saint John alone has multiple ceremonies in various spots around the city, such as the Jervis Bay Memorial Park service and the main one at Harbour Station.
For those who can’t get out of their houses, Canada’s national service in Ottawa is televised each year. Each of these services has their own unique twists and traditions, but one thing remains the same.
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, two minutes of silence are given to honour the brave men and women who gave their lives so that we could be free. Regardless of what you do before Remembrance Day, whether it’s rocking your poppy on the left side of your jacket or changing your profile picture to a snapshot of your grandfather’s battalion, on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., be sure to give up two minutes of your time to remember the ones who died for you.
Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons; what will you do to remember them?
Lest we forget.