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Rethinking the poppy in a respectful way Add to ...

Can you improve on the poppy?

A group of fledgling Nova Scotia designers thought they could and came up with a new version. It's not for sale - and not Legion-sanctioned - but the redone poppy went on display Monday night in Halifax.

Visually similar to the traditional poppy, this one is made of paper impregnated with poppy seeds. You can plant it after Remembrance Day and pay your respects again as it grows. And perhaps more practically, the pin has a back. This poppy won't fall off your lapel.

The designers, all students at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, gathered a bit nervously at the Anna Leonowens Gallery for the launch. They are aware of the Legion's reputation for fiercely defending its decades-old trademark over the poppy.

But they stressed they set out to redo the poppy in a respectful way. And one of the designers, 29-year-old Victoria Lane, argued that the icon needed to be given new relevance.

"It's about remembering, and a lot of the next generation, Generation Y, doesn't really realize what it was all about," said Ms. Lane, whose husband is in the navy. "If you don't update things it tends to get lost in society."

The poppy hasn't changed a lot in the 88 years it's been sold in Canada. Once made by disabled veterans, it is now outsourced to a private companies. But adaptations have tended to be controversial. A shift eight years ago from a green to a black centre, a reversion to the original design, sparked criticism.

Also provoking criticism was the parallel development of the white poppy, a design dating to the 1930s.

"The white poppy is working for peace, it's an active thing," said Victoria resident Marya Nijland, 72, who over the years has made tens of thousands of these poppies, distributed for free. "And the red poppy is remembrance. They're both good."

But the Legion vigorously disputes any equivalence between other poppies and the red one it sanctions. And it's been willing to go to court if necessary.

"We have to protect the trademark from infringement or anyone can be out there selling poppies and taking money for who knows what purpose," said Legion spokesman Bob Butt. "We have to protect it because it means funds for veterans and not funds for someone else."

Mr. Butt said they do try to settle disputes "collegially." But imitators, marketers using the image and anyone else piggybacking on the symbol may hear from the Legion's lawyers.

That diligence garnered praise from Nova Scotia veteran Almon "Bud" Newcombe, 87, who fought in the Italian campaign until he was wounded by shellfire at the Hitler Line.

"It's about respect," said the resident of the veterans' hospital in Halifax. He wears his poppy every year, usually held in place by a pearl tiepin. "They should be strong in protecting it."

That's not to say the Legion is against any change. Although Mr. Butt warned that people fiddling with the poppy can save themselves "a lot of money and hassle" by approaching the Legion first, he seemed interested in learning more about the students' work.

Kate Mitchell, the student who actually made the poppies, explained that handmade paper was impregnated with seeds while wet. For the project poppy, seeds from the supermarket stood in for growing seeds. The paper was then pressed into a mould cast from a traditional poppy.

"They're actually fairly durable," she said. "They won't fall apart in the rain if you're there for an hour."

Finally, the new poppy was mounted on a small piece of cardboard. On one side is a copy of John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. On the back are instructions for planting the poppy, after removing the reusable pin.

"We want to encourage not just remembering in November," Ms. Mitchell said, "but remembering all year around with the blooming poppies."

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