Remembrance Day: Poppy demand trending higher

Demand for poppies is on the rise, the Royal Canadian Legion says, with more than 21 million distributed across the country this year.

Social media tools have played a big role in reaching out to young people, the legion says

Judy Bell and Ellen Billett from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 344 in Toronto hand out poppies and raise awareness about Remembrance Day. Billett brought a photo album with war memories from her late husband to share with passersby, and wears her mother's Silver Cross. The medal was awarded after Billett's brother, a fighter pilot, was shot down and killed in 1942. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Demand for poppies is on the rise, the Royal Canadian Legion says, with more than 21 million distributed across the country this year. 

"It means a lot," said Tom Eagles, the legion's dominion president. "We're seeing more people [wearing poppies] now than we ever did."

"In the last number of years, we have seen a very upward trend," Eagles said.

The official tally for this year won't be finalized until the books are audited after Remembrance Day, the legion said. Last year, 19.7 million poppies were distributed, raising $16.5 million for services for veterans and their families.  

Eagles said there are several reasons for the upswing, including improved public awareness about war and the sacrifices veterans have made. 

Tom Eagles, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, says he expects to see 'all time highs' in both the number of poppies handed out during this year's Remembrance Day campaign and in the amount of money raised to help veterans in need and their families. (Royal Canadian Legion)

"I think we're doing a better job with education, I really do," he said, noting that he's seen more youth at the national Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Ottawa in recent years.

Technology has played a big role in reaching out to young people, he said. 

"Social media has helped everything. So the word is travelling with the press of a button now, where before it used to take forever."   

Afghanistan 'huge' part of awareness

Canadian forces serving in Afghanistan in recent years have also "played a huge part" in boosting interest in Remembrance Day, Eagles said. 

"We were there for quite a few years and we lost quite a few young men and women there," he said. "Unfortunately it has to come to that to create awareness."

Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada, said he has also noticed increased interest each year in Remembrance Day-related activities, including The Memory Project, in which veterans share their experiences by speaking to groups, especially schools, and by recording their stories to be archived online.

Wilson-Smith agrees that the war in Afghanistan contributed to increased awareness, especially among younger people, "of the sacrifices made and the level of service involved" by veterans.   

"With the young veterans, I mean, these are people who live in the community, who are active ... when discharged they're very often people we work alongside, we see everywhere," he said. "It's just natural to feel more engaged when it feels so real."    

But Wilson-Smith said people also started to hear more from Second World War veterans in recent years, partly due to the emergence of programs like the Memory Project which encouraged them to share their experiences.

"These were people who were taught not to express their feeling[s], who came home often from the war, put their uniform away and never talked about it again until they got to their eighties and until programs like this and other ones ... came out," he said.   

Wilson-Smith said people are showing their appreciation of Second World War veterans. 

"They're into their 90s on average," he said. "We will not have them with us that much longer and .. we will either hear their stories now or we won't hear them at all, so people are very aware of that." 

Poppy donations 'amazing'

Ellen Billett, 92, lost her brother and three cousins in the Second World War and her late husband was a veteran. 

A member of the Queen's Own Rifles legion in Toronto, Billett has been distributing poppies for about 20 years. 

Ellen Billett, 92, says she has been distributing poppies for about 20 years. She says donations have been 'really good' this year. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

This year, donations have been "really good," she said.  

"It's amazing. I can remember when we started out years ago, if you got a dollar bill, boy you thought you had done well. We had a lady the other day gave me $60 for a poppy."

Like Eagles and Wilson-Smith, Billett thinks increased awareness is a factor in the increased interest in getting a poppy for Remembrance Day. 

"They're promoting it more," she said. "During our era ... people weren't talking about the war. But now I think it's all coming out, what the boys did." 

Although Royal Canadian Legion president Tom Eagles is happy with the rising poppy interest, there's a particular goal he would consider to be the ultimate Remembrance Day success. 

"I would like to see us distribute 34 million [poppies]," Eagles said. "That'd be one for every Canadian in this country. Wouldn't that be something?"

Where does the money go?

About 18,000 volunteers are handing out poppies across the country, says Tom Eagles, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion. All the donations they collect go directly to the Poppy Trust Fund — a separate account with "strict guidelines" ensuring the money is used for veterans in need and their families.

Some examples:

  • Food.
  • Essential home repairs.
  • Hearing aids.
  • Heating costs.
  • Medication.
  • Transportation to medical appointments.
  • Clothing.
  • Comforts for hospitalized veterans.
  • If approved, supports that are "national in scope" that directly benefit veterans (e.g., brain imaging to scan for PTSD).
  • Local legions can apply for money from the Poppy Trust Fund for special projects for veterans in the community.
  • Money from the Poppy Trust Fund cannot be used for legion branches.