Homeless in Vancouver: My annual appeal to remember and to replace the poppy

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      The custom in Canada is to wear a red plastic remembrance poppy for the entire month of November, with the official Canadian Remembrance Day being the date of the Armistice that ended the First World War—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

      In Canada, the remembrance poppy sold for donation by the Royal Canadian Legion is a molded and die-cut piece of red flocked plastic simulating petals and a centre “dot” of die-cut black felt. The two parts are loosely held together, kebab-style, by the same long steel pin that serves to fix the poppy onto a coat lapel.

      Death, where is they sting? One of the fallen poppies of 2014.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      It’s hard to single out the worst quality of the Canadian remembrance poppy. It could be the environmentally unfriendly materials that it’s made from, or the easy way that the straight pin of the poppy falls off of whatever you pin it to, or perhaps it’s the way that the parts of the poppy themselves can fall off the pin.

      The combined result of these flaws is that through the month of November the streets and by-ways of Canadian cities are dotted with visible red plastic poppies and invisible steel pins, with the latter posing a particular hazard to the unprotected feet of dogs and the tires of bicycles (pigeons and crows apparently eat the little black felt dots with no ill effects).

      Such a poorly designed remembrance poppy can only benefit its maker, the Canadian Legion. The poppy must be cheap to manufacture and insomuch as it forces Canadians, through the month of November, to buy, on average, 2.7 replacement poppies, it brings in more revenue than a good design.

      As I have done since 2013, I’m again suggesting that people donate to the poppy fund but buy or make themselves a more durable remembrance poppy.

      We can contribute to the work on behalf of veterans that the Legion does but we don’t have to contribute to fouling the environment by taking one of their poorly designed plastic poppies.

      There are a world of poppies to choose from

      Australia’s fabric and wire poppy and New Zealand’s felt and plastic ANZAC poppy.

      People in the United States and throughout the Commonwealth countries also wear red remembrance poppies but in every case theirs are quite different from ours—using wire instead of pins and paper or fabric instead of plastic. They are all far less prone to falling apart and less harmful in the environment.

      You can quickly find thousands of better alternatives to the Canadian plastic remembrance poppy by a search of the Internet. The following suggestions are just a hint to get you started.

      One poppy to replace them all

      The Royal Canadian Legion’s online Poppy Store only sells one remembrance poppy brooch (Item #300650) for $39.95.

      This is a glossy little number measuring 3.175 centimetres and made with red enamel over silver plated pewter; set with a center of black stones and fitted on the back with a jewelery brooch pin.

      Reusable poppy? Don’t just say it, crochet it!

      Maggie’s crochet poppy.

      Crocheted poppies are quite the thing. There are several patterns on the 5000 Poppies website, a grassroots Australian project to “plant” a field of handmade poppies in Fed Square Melbourne on Anzac Day 2015 (April 25). Last October, the Royal British Legion together with BBC Nottingham provided patterns to encourage communities to help mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

      Maggie’s Crochet blog has a very nice beginner’s pattern illustrated with videos.

      Heartfelt poppy project for the whole family

      Get some coloured felt, some glue, a pair of scissors, and everything else listed in these complete instructions, and have a family fun day making your own felt poppies for Remembrance Day.

      At least mod it to make the Legion’s poppy less droppy

      A member of Acacia Lodge secures his poppy with a square and compass pin.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Take a tip from the Freemasons, who've become very practiced wearers of pins and remembrance poppies. Masons remove the stick pin from their poppy and replace it with something like a tiny flag pin, or an ever-present square and compass pin—whatever is small and has a proper pin back to securely fix the poppy to their lapel.

      Alternately you could remove the stick pin from the poppy, epoxy the black center to the red plastic and epoxy a safety pin on the back—or, better yet, a wee ceramic magnet. With a magnet you can “pin” the poppy to your clothing by using a small coin on the other side of the fabric, for the magnet to stick to (this works really well).

      A simple way to keep your Legion poppy pinned in place is—after pinning it to your lapel or coat—to slide a small piece of rubber-like material over the end of the straight pin, say, a cube of pencil eraser or natural or artificial wine cork.

      Or perhaps you have no taste for red and prefer white

      From the start, the point of the remembrance poppy was to symbolize the sacrifice of all men, women, and children who had been made casualties of the First World War of 1914 to 1918.

      However, by the 1920s, antiwar activists felt that governments were using the red poppy to actually promote and glorify war. Their answer was the introduction of the white peace poppy, which promotes an end to war and memorializes all of its victims.

      If you want to wear a white poppy this year, you might try contacting the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, which has distributed white poppies in British Columbia as recently as last year but you may actually have to make your own. You can’t do any worse than I did when I tried my hand at making one yesterday.

      Please never forget that Remembrance Day is about remembering the inhumanity of war and its cost in lives and suffering. It is not about worshiping at the church of nationalism and has nothing whatsoever to do with patriotism.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.