The poppy has been a symbol of remembrance in Canada since the early 1920s, derived from Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae's poem, In Flanders Fields. In Canada, the poppy lapel pins were assembled by disabled veterans in so-called Vetcraft workshops, under the supervision of Veterans Affairs Canada. This continued until 1996, when increasing demand and a decreasing membership made it necessary to contract out the job to a private company. Peter Underhill, director of supply for the Royal Canadian Legion's Dominion Command, answered questions about the poppy campaign.
How many poppies are produced a year?
In a typical year, there are 16 to 18 million poppies distributed by us. It's a very consistent number.
Have you ever considered other poppy designs?
We've actually kicked around and experimented with alternative materials. The dilemma is anything that breaks down can actually make a mess of clothing. … You put the poppy down on a white piece of paper and put a drop of water on it, and look back half an hour later and the paper's turned red.
What's your best recommendation for how to keep a poppy in the fabric?
Weave it in and out of the fabric. I'm talking about an eighth of an inch at a time and it won't move.
Have you ever experimented with poppies that would clip on to clothing?
We have, but the dilemma is the poppies are provided at pennies and you start looking at alternative clutch backings and things that [cost]12 or 15 cents. … What we're trying to do is make the poppy as inexpensive as possible. … The poppy funds are used in support of veterans and in support of remembrance, they're not used for any form of administration, or rent, or hydro bills, or salaries.
How are the poppies assembled now?
Assembly is still manually done, principally by employees of [a company called]Dominion Regalia. Although, if a veteran wishes to participate, poppies are made available for them to assemble.
Are machines used too?
The machines are used to press the poppies, to form them. Moulds are used. They're heated and the flocking material is formed into shape, and then there's a separate machine, that's a dye-cut machine, that actually cuts out the shape of the poppy.
Did you notice a spike in poppy sales once the war in Afghanistan began?
I would say it has remained relatively consistent. If you've attended a remembrance ceremony, you will see the way the public stands up and applauds their veterans, how strongly Canadians feel for their veterans community.
How are the funds from the campaign used?
We have a poppy trust fund here at Dominion Command, as do all provincial commands, so we use that for sponsorship for the national remembrance program and the national poster and literary contest. [They are]used to support veterans' spouses, children, and now poppy funds are available for use to existing military personnel and their families.
Is there anything about the campaign that you think the public may not know?
Only that we really need members to join the Royal Canadian Legion. … There's a public perception out there that we're government-funded. We're funded through membership dues, and that's why we need members. Even though the trademark of the poppy is controlled here, at Dominion Command, we view ourselves as caretakers of the poppy.