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I now wear a poppy with pride but there was a time I was not aware of its significance

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.


In Flanders Fields was penned by the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae in tribute to his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed in May, 1915, and to all the other fallen soldiers. The evocative poem has inspired generations of Canadians to honour war veterans.
But there was a time when I was unaware of the poem or of the red poppies that bloom on the lapels of Canadians in November.

One November evening 21 years ago, an elderly gentleman carrying a tray of poppies stopped me as I hurried from a mall in Toronto. It was cold, it was our first November in the country and I had just enough change in my pocket for bus fare. I mumbled an apology and walked past. He said something after me, loudly, and as an oversensitive newcomer, I thought he was being racist, being unfriendly.

I realized later that he was perhaps just educating me on the significance of the poppies he was offering in exchange for a donation. That he was gathering support for our war veterans, reminding us of their sacrifice, lest we forget.

Now each year, when I pin a poppy on my lapel with pride, I say a silent apology in my head to the gentleman I walked past so many years ago.

– MARK SILGARDO

What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Nov 14, 2010

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