March 28, 2016
Chronicle Journal (A5)

Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.

Last month’s column introduced the article series and told the story of the Orpington hospital and its connection to Thunder Bay. This month, we thought some of the background and context to the poppy in Thunder Bay would be fitting. You may have recently seen banners hanging from City Hall or street banners around town.

The poppy was immortalized by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and taken up by Madame Anne E. Guerin of France in a campaign to broaden its reach internationally. After garnering support in England, Guerin came to Canada in 1921 to propose the poppy as a national symbol of remembrance. In Port Arthur, Ontario, the Prince Arthur Hotel played host to a national convention of the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) in July. Madame Guerin (“The Poppy Lady of France”) was received there and given an opportunity to make her case. A resolution was passed on July 6 1921 and in November of that year poppies were distributed in Canada for the first time under the sponsorship of the GWVA. Within a year, this practice had spread to Legions across the country.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

(Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, 1915)

The local connection to this piece of history quickly came to the attention of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project (see link below). Aligned with the City committee, the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project is a community partnership to commemorate the Great War, its impact within Thunder Bay, and to share the stories of people, families, and communities during that time. Members of the partnership are contributing photographs, research material, and documents on a consistent basis, meaning that new content is regularly available. Community contributions are encouraged to provide a true reflection of the impact this war had in Thunder Bay and across Northwestern Ontario.
This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. Jesse Roberts is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.