Remembering the Past for a Better Future

This week is an important one for remembering our past in the hopes of building a better future. On Monday, we welcomed Jenn Green, who spoke to the school about the experiences of her grandfather, Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger. Jenn shared video clips of her interview with her grandfather about his horrific experiences during the Holocaust as a victim of antisemitism and hate and war crimes. Students and staff were moved by Nate’s story; following Jenn’s presentation, students engaged in an educational session as part of Holocaust Education Week, recognized around the world. 

Tomorrow, November 11, we mark Remembrance Day with a service at our school. Below are my remarks that acknowledge that this is the 100th year of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Students will sit with their grades in various locations throughout the school and we will stream the assembly, including a song from our choir, a presentation by Jack Shier ‘13, a Canadian Armed Forces member, and the Last Post played by Kevin Xu ‘24. Lest we Forget. Please see my remarks below.

Following the end of World War I, Anna Guérin had an idea. A social organizer and experienced fundraiser, she wanted to find a way to both raise funds for those devastated by war and to ensure that the sacrifices of those who died were never forgotten. Inspired by John McCrae’s now-famous poem and by American professor Moina Michael, she began distributing artificial paper poppies in the United States in exchange for donations, with support from local women and girls. In 1920, Anna explained her idea to the American Legion Convention in Cleveland, Ohio; the Legionnaires christened her "The Poppy Lady from France" and adopted the poppy as their memorial emblem. 

Over the next several years, Anna visited countries including Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand to spread her message, and to organize the production of more durable silk poppies. The British Legion ordered 9 million of these poppies in 1921 and sold them on November 11 that year; they sold out almost immediately, and that first Poppy Appeal raised the equivalent of almost $9 million in today’s currency - to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.

Canada adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1921, meaning Canadians have now worn them every November for 100 years. Thanks to Anna’s tireless work, millions of dollars have been raised over the years to support veterans and survivors of war, and we think of those who have lost their lives in battle every time we see the bright red bloom of a poppy.

It was in 1915 that the families of soldiers first received letters telling of fields “ablaze” with poppies - but why did this happen? Because the conflict created prime conditions for them to flourish in France and Belgium. The bombardment unearthed seeds buried in the soil, where they were fertilized by nitrogen from explosives and lime from the debris of nearby buildings. And, horrifically, the millions of men and animals who lost their lives on those fields also fertilized the soil. 

I’m wearing my poppy today, as many of you are, because I never want to forget those millions of sacrifices. We are fortunate to live in peace today because of those who laid down their lives, and we must continue to hold them in our thoughts. I also wear my poppy as a symbol of hope. For the soldiers fighting in France in World War I, the fields of flowers were a reminder that there was still life and beauty in the world, even amid chaos and devastation. I wear my poppy today in honour of those who have served, and continue to serve, our country, and in the hope that we can continue to learn from the past to build a better future.

Greenwood College School

443 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON M4S 2L8
Tel: 416 482 9811
We acknowledge with gratitude the Ancestral lands upon which our main campus is situated. These lands are the Ancestral territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Anishinabek and the Wendake. The shared responsibility of this land is honoured in the Dish with One Spoon Treaty and as settlers, we strive to care for the land, the waters, and all creatures in the spirit of peace. We are responsible for respecting and supporting the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. When away from this campus we vow to be respectful to the land by protecting and honouring it. We will create relationships with the people and the land we may visit by understanding the territories we enter and the nations who inhabit them.
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