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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 10:45 am 
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From the Toronto Star

How many poppies have you lost this year?
Nov. 9, 2006. 05:26 AM
ROB FERGUSON
QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU

How many poppies have you lost this year?

The folks at the Royal Canadian Legion are fully aware the Remembrance Day symbols that have helped millions honour the fallen since 1922 do tend to fall — often undetected — from lapels, sweaters and jackets.

Just take a look down at the sidewalk, where many an accidentally jettisoned poppy becomes a casualty, trampled by so many soldiers of the new economy marching to work and shop.

All it takes for the poppy to work its way loose is putting a coat on and taking it off a few times, or a brush with an errant briefcase or purse strap. Scarves, too. Even a stiff breeze can do the trick.

"If they just had a clip on the end," laments Mike Hyland, a retired teacher from Ajax, his first poppy of the season triple-woven into the collar of his windbreaker.

But it's a precarious spot, Hyland adds. "I have stabbed myself a few times on my chin."

Such are the lengths to which Canadians will go to proudly pay their respects with Remembrance Day coming Saturday.

Over the years, Legion officials have tried to build a better poppy, says Steven Clark, remembrance co-ordinator at the Legion's head office, appropriately named Dominion Command, in Ottawa.

"People do say that the poppy falls off and what can they do to keep it in place," he acknowledges.

"We have in the past and still do, from time to time, review options and ways it can be modified, but it really does come down to cost."

A few years ago, the Legion experimented with 100,000 poppies that did, indeed, come with a clip on the end of the pin that veterans and members affixed to many a patriotic Canadian.

"The responses we got back, the members said they prefer to keep it as a straight pin without the little knob on the end," explains Clark. "That's why we have gone back to the original standard poppy design."

But there's another reason a new, improved version of the standard poppy is Mission: Improbable.

After paying the cost of production, a few cents each for the 18 million poppies the Legion distributes every year, the proceeds — about $15 million in donations — go to helping needy veterans. The more it costs to make a poppy, the less the vets get.

So the Legion doesn't mind if citizens buy more than one poppy and, for that, Clark makes no apologies. "That is the positive side of this. The veterans will receive more support if you buy a second poppy."

Or third, or fourth.

"It works out well that way," he adds, stifling a chuckle. "It's not planned, but it works out well."

That said, Legion officials remain ready to help the poppy-challenged help themselves.

"Some people have come up with their own ideas and that's certainly fine."

One method: Bend the end of the pin into a hook to keep it from falling. Or use a Canadian flag pin or other such pin with a pinch-clasp to secure the poppy.

You end up with a flag in the centre of the poppy but it beats the alternative, says Monte Kwinter, Ontario's minister of community safety and correctional services, who alternates pins featuring the Maple Leaf and the provincial coat of arms.

"This way it's there and it stays there," adds the veteran politician, who grew tired of showing up for public events only to discover — too late — that his poppy had popped off.

"Every time I'd go somewhere I thought I was wearing one, and I'd see everyone else is wearing one, but I don't have one. You'd get any kind of pressure on it and it would come out."

While the Legion doesn't like to see its members affixing poppies to people that way, officials don't mind when civilians do it.

"The most important thing is they're actually wearing a poppy," says Clark. "As long as that's happening, we're happy."

Meanwhile, the research and development continues.

The Legion is working with a supplier making poppy stickers with glue that won't ruin fabric and leather — perfect for kids who lose poppies even quicker than adults.

For now, Legion branches sell red plastic "We remember" wristbands for children. Also available are poppy scarf pins, earrings, tie tacks and metal poppy pins that use clasps or two-piece magnets to stay attached to clothes.

The Legion began selling poppies four years after the end of World War I. They were made by disabled veterans and production continued until 1996 in sheltered workshops run by Veterans Affairs Canada in Toronto and Montreal, staffed by disabled former members of the military and their dependants. Poppies are now made by a private company.


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