The Eleventh Minute, the Eleventh Hour, the Eleventh Day

In Canada we celebrate Remembrance Day, on the Eleventh Day, of the eleventh month. Gathering together in churchyards, schools, or war memorials, we hear stories of Canadian sacrifice, and listen as a lone trumpet plays “Taps”. If all goes well the last haunting note dies out as the clock ticks over to the eleventh minute, when we bow our heads for two minutes of silence and reflection.
This is a tradition which began with the formal conclusion of “The War to End All Wars” on November 11th, 1918, on Armistice Day.

During that terrible modern war, in 1915 Canadian Doctor John McCrae wrote what I believe to be the single most powerful piece of anti-war poetry ever written.

I doubt I am the only one whose eyes tear up just thinking the words of the first line of his poem,

“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, MD

Sadly, humankind has not yet managed to do away with war. The simple words of this immortal poem, so eloquently expressed by this sad and demoralized front line doctor, have permeated the Canadian consciousness.

Part of the poem was printed on the Canadian ten dollar bill a few years back, then in 2004 the poppy as the Canadian symbol of Remembrance was commemorated on a quarter.

Poppies and poetry adorn the ten dollar bill.
Poppies and poetry adorn the ten dollar bill.

My first consciousness of the horrors of war was a visit to an interactive-museum in a train car I visited as a child during Canada’s Centennial year. I remember:
walking through the recreated World War I battlefield… sand bags… explosions…
The photographs, lighting and sound effects made a vivid impression on me that is still with to this day. To educate my own child we’ve visited the extraordinary McCrae House museum in Guelph.

I’ve watched movies, read fiction and poetry, as well as many historical accounts that have left me convinced that war is something to be avoided if at all possible. I am well aware that I’m incredibly lucky because I’ve never been up close and personal with war.  But although I’ve never lost a loved one to war, I know those who have not been so fortunate. At the same time I have been humbled knowing my life has been lived in freedom paid for with Canadian blood.

Every year of my adult life I have made a point of putting money in the little Canadian Legion box for a poppy at least once every November, even knowing there are ranks of poppies at home in my drawer. I’ve worn a poppy every year. Until now.

The perversion of the concept of “Copyright” has spread to the Canadian Legion.

I am simply appalled by the Canadian Legion’s dreadful behavior. It seems that they believe they “own” all rights to the use of the poppy, and have been heaving their prodigious legal might
— fueled by all of those donations we’ve all made to their “worthy cause” over the years–
against anyone who dares appropriate what they believe to be their exclusive symbol.

It incenses me when I read about the Canadian Legion mustering their forces against:

It is pretty clear that they are not even in the right, since the first instance of the poppy as a symbol was initiated by an American YMCA worker who encouraged the American Legion to adopt it as a symbol (before the Canadian Legion did), and the poppy design currently used internationally is based on the work –the Intellectual Property of– a French woman. The white poppy of peace is something different, and it too dates back a ways to 1930’s England. The fact that the Canadian Legion copied everyone else in adopting the red poppy symbol is the only claim that the Canadian Legion can reasonably make.

But they used their power to stop a white poppy campaign anyway… because they could. The fledgling Canadian peace movement changed their symbol, and are now known as the White Peace Dove Campaign. Their only crime was the lack of a budget to stand against the Canadian Legion blitzkrieg. I find it disgusting that my donations to the Canadian Legion have made it possible to trample other Canadians purely by intimidation.

Of course the Canadian Legion has also attempted to block the British Peace Pledge Union from distributing white poppies in Canada.

What on earth is happening in the world?

The madness has been escalating as corporations and organizations seek to take ownership of things that they have no real right to.   Years ago I remember thinking how absurd it was that Toys “Я” Us laid claim to the letter “R”.  Apparently they made a case for their creative use of their backward letter “R” to represent the word “are”.  It seems incredible that any court would foolishly allow any corporation exclusive rights to a letter of the alphabet in current use, let alone as a symbol for a common word in our language.

Whether or not that was the intent, Toys “Я” Us has ever after aimed their legal juggernaut at any company daring to use the letter “R” — pointing in any direction– as a word ever since. “Right” doesn’t come into it. Without deep pockets and a crack legal team, no one can stand up to an onslaught by Toys “Я” Us.

And amazingly enough Toys “Я” Us hasn’t yet sued Sesame Street for creating songs and videos about the Letter “R” Actually I wonder why they aren’t bringing their corporate might to bear against all the internet chat room uses of the letter “R” in place of the word. Or the even more common usage in the face of the Twitter and 140 character limit imposition? Maybe Toys “Я” Us are just biding their time, adding up all the infringements.

Makes you wonder why the YMCA hasn’t sewn up the rights to the letter “Y”. Or wonder which University will be first to lay claim to ownership of the letter “U”.

it isn’t the same thing at all

Poppies in the Sunset on Lake Geneva.jpg  Poppies in the Sunset on Lake Geneva.
Poppies in the Sunset on Lake Geneva photographed by PDTillman, Wikimedia Commons

Letters of the alphabet are actually human constructs, invented symbols. If you had actually invented a letter of the alphabet you would actually have reasonable grounds to copyright the letter.

[Of course if you started charging royalties every time your letter was used, your letter would rapidly fall out of favour.]

But a poppy? A poppy is a living thing, a flower, part of a plant that grows in the ground. Poppies have been in existence long before the Canadian Legion. The Canadian legion didn’t invent poppies. And in fact the poppies mentioned in Dr. McCrae’s poem were wildflowers growing free, planted by no one, owned by no one. Under no copyright. Why should the Canadian Legion have any special claim to the poppy?

If you look at the Canadian Legion’s website it is pretty clear that they feel perfectly justified in appropriating Doctor McCrae’s story and his powerful contribution to the sum of all knowledge. The Legion makes no secret that they have adopted the poppy as a symbol because of Dr. McCrae’s poetry, which he so freely gifted to the world. If the poppy as a Remembrance Day Symbol is anyone’s intellectual property it would be the two YMCA workers responsible for its implementation, one from France, one from the US. (Note: Neither was Canadian.)

But because the Canadian Legion has very deep pockets they are more than willing to go to war on other Canadians daring to “poach” from what they perceive to be their private preserve, the symbol of a poppy. The Canadian Legion has proven themselves willing to abuse their power to intimidate anyone they feel is competition. The reason the Canadian Legion has such deep pockets because of Canadian largesse.

The Canadian Legion’s “war chest” is courtesy of ordinary people like you and me, shelling out for their little poppy pins. Supposedly they don’t “charge” for the pins, it has always been a donation box. The idea is of course that anyone can have one gratis if you can’t afford to donate, but we all put in as much as we can spare, and many of us have happily put in more. I don’t know about you but its been a long time since I’ve put anything lower than a five dollar bill in one of those boxes. (I’d be surprised if stamping out a poppy pins costs more than a penny or two.) And when you think about the fact that the pins seem designed to work free of your jacket, I’ve found myself making multiple donations pretty much every year. And I didn’t mind because I was suffering under the belief that it was in good cause.

It would have never have occurred to me that The Canadian Legion would use money I had donated to attempt to stifle a fledgling peace movement.

Still less would I have been able to imagine that the Canadian Legion would spend money I donated to actively stifle fundraising efforts intended to benefit the families of veterans.

Or that the Canadian Legion would squander my donations in the petty power play which blocked the Highway of Heroes pins.

Obviously the Canadian Legion is more interested in securing their own little fiefdom by engaging in intimidation and oppression of Canadians than in doing good. Perhaps they are afraid that peace will put them out of business. I don’t know, nor do I care. One thing’s for sure, they certainly have too much money at their disposal.

The Famous Canadian "Spy Quarter"
The 2004 Canadian Mint Remembrance Day Quarter

All I can do is write about my anger in my little blog and cease supporting an institution which seems bent on doing damage to the freedoms so many Canadians have fought and died for.

The Canadian Legion has betrayed my trust. I regret every dime I’ve given them over the years, and they’ll never again receive so much as a poppy quarter from me.

What gives them the right?

It is clear that the only thing that Doctor McCrae was trying to promote with his little poem was peace. Somehow I doubt that the good Doctor would have ever approved of the Canadian Legion’s corruption of his imagery, and worse their perversion of his poppy symbol as an instrument of oppression.


Like most people, I don’t have time to read everything, but I’d like to thank M. Spector for this excellent blog post which opened my eyes to this issue



[Note: My intent was that my first November blog post would deal with my NaNoWriMo participation, but I just haven’t been able to get this out of my head today– LLR]



8 thoughts on “The Eleventh Minute, the Eleventh Hour, the Eleventh Day

  1. […] You may think nothing like that could ever happen. How could such an important idea… a worthy idea to spread kindness… how could that possibly end up in court? Sadly, it could happen the very same way the idea of honouring our Canadian war dead with the poppy symbol has led to legal challenges by the Canadian Legion. […]

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