Cross Country Checkup

Why some Canadians do — and don't — wear the red poppy

On Sunday, Checkup asked Canadians what the poppy means to them. While some see it as a tribute to veterans, others see it as glorifying war.

While some see it as a tribute to veterans, others see it as glorifying war

Children place poppies on a cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony at God's Acre Veteran's Cemetery in Victoria, B.C., on Sunday, November 11, 2018. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Garett MacLaren has always been moved by the stories veterans told when he was an elementary school student.

"It was still extremely moving to see a 65 or 70-year-old man cry on stage, talking about losing all his friends," the London, Ont., caller told Cross Country Checkup.

On Sunday, host Duncan McCue asked Canadians what the poppy means to them. MacLaren, 26, wears one each year to commemorate the soldiers who fought — and died — at war.

It's "for the ... ultimate sacrifice that they've all made for our freedoms. I feel like they deserve that," he said.

But the poppy can be divisive. For some, it's a symbol that glorifies war. Meanwhile, some choose to wear different coloured flowers — each carrying a different meaning.

Caller Lydia Lawrence, for one, does not wear a poppy on Remembrance Day.

'My issue … is not the veterans'

The 21-year-old from Edmonton knows that her decision is controversial, but she says it goes beyond Canada's contributions to war.

"My issue with the poppy is not the veterans," Lawrence told McCue, adding that her grandfather fixed planes during World War II.

Lawrence, who is of Métis heritage, resists wearing the poppy because she sees it as a symbol of Canadian patriotism.

Lydia Lawrence is of Métis descent and believes that the red poppy symbolizes a Canadian nationalism that she sees as flawed. (Submitted by Lydia Lawrence)

As a history and political science student who focuses largely on Indigenous history, Lawrence has perceived Canadian nationalism as flawed since she was 10.

"I think we tend to forget the violence that the Canadian government — and we as Canadians — experience on a daily basis towards our Indigenous people," Lawrence said.

"I just think that on Remembrance Day, it's so easy to slip into these nationalistic narratives that say Canada is peaceful, Canada is perfect."

Poppy of peace

Unlike Lawrence, Lyn Adamson wears two poppies on her lapel — one red, and the other white.

"The white poppy signifies all the victims of wars; that most victims of war are civilians," Adamson, the co-chair of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, said.

Co-chair of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace Lyn Adamson wears both a red and a white poppy. The white poppy is a symbol of pacifism. (Submitted by Lyn Adamson)

The white poppy, which has been criticized by the Royal Canadian Legion in the past, is meant to signify pacifism and encourage peace around the world.

"People are being killed every day in wars around the world right now, and this is a time of year when we're remembering how awful war is."

Still, the Toronto woman recognizes the importance of valuing the contributions of veterans.

"I don't think it's a competition and there's certainly no disrespect in it," she said.