Remembrance Day 2021 is over but, as I watched the Royal Family Remembrance Day ceremony last night, I couldn’t help but be proud as a Canadian when I saw everyone wearing a poppy.
This year, 2021, is the 100th anniversary of the poppy brought to recognition by Madame Anna Guérin of France. Despite her entreaties no one adopted the poppy idea until she brought it to Canada.
On July 4, 1921, she spoke about her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea to men of the Canadian Great War Veterans’ Association (G.W.V.A.) in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) and, on 6 July, the Canadian veterans adopted it.
The Canadians were the first of the British Empire veterans to do so. In 1922, the bulk of poppies were made by Canadian disabled veterans. Anna handed the poppy mantle over to Captain James Learmonth Melville, M.C., who was Principal of the Vocational School for Disabled Soldiers.
In 1923, Lillian Bilsky Freiman’s ‘Vetcraft’ disabled veterans took over the manufacture of Canadian Remembrance Poppies and she was named ‘The Poppy Lady’.
Lillian Freiman was born in Mattawa, Ontario in 1885 to Pauline Reich, a homemaker, and Moses Bilsky, who was a Jewish-Canadian merchant and community leader who was thought to have been the first Jewish settler in Ottawa. Her family was of Russian-Lithuanian descent.
She was the fifth of eleven children and her sister Lucy would go on to marry Allan Bronfman, one of the founders of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, one of the largest liquor distillers and marketers in the world.