THUNDER BAY – One hundred years ago at the Prince Arthur Hotel, the decision was made to adopt the poppy as the symbol of fallen members of the military.
Inspired by Canadian John McCrea’s poem, In Flanders Fields and pushed for by Anna Guerin, who came to be known as The Poppy Lady of France, the poppy has endured for a century, worn in countries around the world on Remembrance Day as a sign of respect.
On Sunday the centennial anniversary of decision made by the Great War Veterans Association was celebrated with the unveiling of a plaque outside the downtown north side hotel, where it will be hung to mark the milestone going forward.
Robert Cutbush, vice-president of the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario provincial command of the Royal Canadian Legion, said it’s unfortunate COVID-19 restrictions prevented a larger gathering, which was supposed to include a ceremony at Waverly Park and a parade, to celebrate the anniversary, but what’s important is the poppy is still going strong 100 years later.
“The plaque is to recognize the date the poppy was proposed as the symbol of remembrance. Many citizens of Northwestern Ontario – Port Arthur, Fort William and the surrounding communities – went overseas. Some never came back,” Cutbush said.
“A lot came back wounded, either mentally or physically. The poppy is a way for the Royal Canadian Legion to raise funds to assist these veterans and their struggles ... and to support their families who may be in need.”
Del Babcock, co-chair of Sunday’s ceremony, said it’s a historic day.
“It means the legions have done a awful lot to support the veterans over the years and have been going strong for 100 years, so let’s try for another 100 years,” Babcock said.
“I think it recognizes the fact that the poppy was adopted here at the Great War Veterans Association convention in 1921, which was hosted by Branch No. 5 of the Great War Veterans Association, the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Legion ... It all ties in. It happened here in Thunder Bay, Port Arthur, and it is still happening here.”
MP Patty Hajdu, MPP Michael Gravelle and Mayor Bill Mauro were also on hand for the ceremony.
Hajdu said the poppy invokes a strong tie to the nation’s past, present and future and it behooves the country and its people to ensure it continues for decades to come.
“It’s on all of us to teach our children about those sacrifices, about the bravery of the men and women who served and the bravery of their families, letting go of their loved ones to serve a purpose higher than themselves,” Hajdu said during a brief speech at the ceremony, held outside the hotel where it all began.
“It defends the kinds of values that I think Canadians have within us – peace, freedom, compassion, integrity. The poppy is the way we show each other, and the families of the men and women who have sacrificed so much that we do indeed remember.”
The new plaque will replace a plaque inside the hotel marking the adoption of the poppy. That plaque will be hung in another location inside the building.