November 11 marks Remembrance Day in Canada, a day when we pin poppies to our jackets and pause for a moment of silence in memory of the many lives lost to war.
A history of remembrance
Remembrance Day developed from Armistice Day, which was inaugurated to celebrate the end of the Great War (or World War I, as it would later be known) in 1919. The Great War was among the bloodiest, most brutal wars the planet had ever seen — thanks to new technologies like the tank and machine gun — and governments of the time were desperate not to repeat their mistakes.
"The war to end all wars"
The Great War ended with an armistice signed on November 11th, 1918, which came into effect at 11:11 am that day. Even today, over a century later, we still observe a moment of silence on November 11th, at 11:11 am, to commemorate those who lost their lives in war.
Unfortunately, "the war to end all wars" didn't end warfare altogether, as barely a generation later, World War II erupted across the globe.
During the Second World War, many countries, including Canada, changed the name of the holiday to Remembrance Day, and we've observed a yearly remembrance ever since.
Wearing a poppy
You may have spotted people wearing red poppies over their hearts at this time of year. The poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance in 1921, making this year the poppy's 100th anniversary.
Millions of Canadians, along with people around the world, wear a red poppy in November to honour the memories of those who lost their lives to war. The poppy calls back to a poem, "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae, a physician who saw first-hand the horrors of war. The poem's popularity led to widespread adoption of the red poppy as a symbol of the lost.
You can listen to Canadian legend Leonard Cohen recite the poem in the video below.
Remembrance Day in the modern age
Today, we live in a complicated world. More people live in peace and prosperity, even while the number of armed conflicts grows. We haven't suffered a global calamity on the scale of the world wars, but new challenges face us, including the ongoing pandemic, and the grand problem of our age: climate change.
A changing climate
Activists are seizing upon Remembrance Day as an opportunity to push for concerted efforts at the global level to address the changing climate, noting that climate change is one of the biggest threats to peace and stability across the globe. Foresight today can help prevent the loss of life tomorrow. Remembrance Day reminds us to pause and consider the acts of past generations — and asks us to imagine a better world.
On Remembrance Day this year, take a moment of silence to reflect on the tragedies of our past — and give some thought to how you can help make the world a safer, more peaceful, and more equitable place for everyone who calls this planet home.
Want to take part in a Remembrance Day ceremony near you? The Royal Canadian Legion has a searchable map to help you find a branch in your area.
Find a Remembrance Day ceremony near you