Teresa Gagné will wear a red poppy leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 like many Vancouverites, but it’s not the only article pinned to her lapel.
Gagné also affixes a white poppy beside the red one. Known as a peace poppy, it’s meant to commemorate all victims of war, call attention to the environmental devastation caused by war, symbolize the wearer’s rejection of war as a tool for social change, and represent an appeal for peaceful conflict resolution.
The white peace poppies originated in Britain and were first sold by the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1933.
Gagné spotted a woman wearing one about a decade ago and it’s meaning resonated with her.
“Personally, I’ve always felt a bit conflicted about wearing the red poppy — wanting to support veterans, feeling that I somehow wanted to express that I had grave reservations about current wars and about the necessity of war as a way of solving disputes,” explained Gagné, the spokesperson for Vancouver Peace Poppies. “So, to me, the white poppy was a way to express those feelings.”
Supporters will gather at Mountainview Cemetery Nov. 2 to launch their fourth annual White Poppy Remembrance Day campaign when they’ll unveil two wreaths of mixed red and white poppies, coloured by school children.
Gagné wore homemade white poppies for the first two years of the campaign, but then started bringing them in from Britain where they’re made.
Last year, she distributed a total of about 1,800 across Canada — roughly 600 in Vancouver. The campaign website indicates where they can be purchased for a donation.
Gagné said she hasn’t heard many negative comments, but is aware some white poppy wearers have been accused of disrespecting veterans who’ve sacrificed their lives for their country.
“I think mostly that comes from people who aren’t really familiar with the white poppy, haven’t read one of our cards, and may not have any familiarity with it other than that they’ve heard it’s offensive to veterans,” she said. “It’s like people who want to see a book banned even though they’ve never actually seen the book, but they’ve heard that it contains this or that.”
Gagné believes she’s actually helping direct more attention to Remembrance Day and that many veterans support the campaign’s message.
“I feel that Remembrance Day for the last few years has more and more lost its relevance and connection to people. To a lot of people it’s another statutory holiday. It’s a day to sleep in and shop and it’s not a day anymore for people to stop and really think about war and the consequences of war,” she said. “I feel that our campaign is actually focusing more attention on Remembrance Day and that our goal is really the same as the Legion’s, which is to keep it as a day that’s important to stop and remember war.”
Jim Howard is the administrator of the Vancouver Poppy Fund for traditional red poppies, which pay homage to fallen veterans.
He said he’s never heard of the white poppy campaign and couldn’t comment on it.
Howard said the Vancouver Poppy Fund campaign is going well, particularly the mail appeal. The campaign sent out 65,000 pieces of unaddressed mail and 6,700 pieces of addressed mail across the city containing a poppy and appeal for a donation.
“The returns were getting on that are very nice,” he said, estimating he’s received about 400 replies as of Wednesday.
The Vancouver Poppy Fund nets about $200,000 annually and donations are directed to support programs and services for veterans and their families.
Joanne Henderson, poppy fund coordinator for the B.C. Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, believes the white poppy conflicts with the red poppy.
“It’s in conflict with the poppy that’s been around since the First World War,” said Henderson, who served in the navy during the late 1960s in peace time.
Henderson noted seven members of her family died in the first and second world wars.
“It’s the red poppy that stands for the loss of members of my family. It’s the red poppy that’s there to remember the conflicts that have happened so that they don’t happen again. It’s the red poppy that’s there for our young men and women who are coming home from places like Afghanistan…it’s the red poppy, and it always has been.”
Henderson doesn’t accept peace poppy supporters’ stated position that their campaign isn’t in opposition to the red poppy campaign, but it’s meant to go alongside it.
“When the white poppy appeared to me, it was in conflict of [the red poppy] whether they want it to be or not because they bring it out at exactly the same time,” Henderson said, pointing out her grandfather died in the First World War. “It’s not white poppies that grow over their bodies, it was red and that, to me, is the symbol of remembrance, the symbol of peace, the symbol of being able to work toward a peaceful world—whether we achieve that or not, I don’t know.”