The story behind the First Poppy

Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins received the community's ceremonial First Poppy on Oct. 25.

Roy Empey

Roy Empey

On Oct. 25, the president of the Ladysmith Legion pinned the First Poppy on Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins.

It’s a tradition that Roy Empey, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 171, started years ago, and it signals the beginning of poppy sales throughout the community.

“I think I’m the one who started this after going down and every year seeing the lieutenant-governor always gets the first poppy,” said Empey. “I thought let’s make arrangements that ours is done the very next day and make sure the mayor gets the next poppy.”

In B.C., the lieutenant-governor receives the symbolic First Poppy. That ceremony — which, this year, took place Oct. 23 — signals the start of the Poppy Campaign for Legions across the province. A symbolic First Poppy is also presented to the Governor General at the national level.

The Legion’s Poppy Campaign always begins the last Friday in October.

“We have all our veterans, Legion members and cadets go on the streets with poppy trays Friday and Saturday,” said Empey. “The Poppy Fund is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year for the veterans because the veterans now, the older ones, need more money now.”

Besides selling poppies on the street, Legion members drop off poppy trays at local businesses.

“It’s a lot of work by a lot of people,” said Empey. “All the volunteers that go out, every year the air cadets come out — on the Saturday, they take up half the businesses.”

First and foremost, money raised through poppy sales is used to assist veterans 12 months of the year.

Since 1921, the poppy has stood as the symbol of Remembrance, representing a visual pledge to never forget those Canadians who have fallen in war and military support operations.