The story of Rotary Park’s famous poppies

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With Remembrance Day having come and gone, some locals may be wondering about the story behind what has become an annual tradition in North Grenville – the knitted and crocheted poppies at Rotary Park. Brenda Ward is the name behind this initiative, and she is very proud of what this simple idea has become four years after it was first conceived. 

L-R: Doreen O’Sullivan, Kristen Kristin Strackerjan, Nancy Peckford, Brenda Ward (initiated the knitted and crocheted poppy project), John Barclay and Debbie Wilson

The idea for the knitted and crocheted poppies came about to help young people remember the true reason for Remembrance Day, and what the day means. The knitting pattern from which the poppies are created was borrowed from an Australian organization called 5000 Poppies. Wanting to keep the initiative local, Brenda enlisted the help of the local knitting group to make poppies and drop them off at Grahame’s Bakery. Brenda was able to get permission from the Municipality for the poppies to be hung off the clock at Rotary Park. 

As the years went on, the initiative quickly grew. The partnership with Grahame’s Bakery has held strong, with completed poppies still able to be dropped off there. Another option is to mail completed poppies directly to Brenda. 

There are many different variations of the poppies that are created, including those made in different shades of red and with different materials. “It’s just growing every year,” said Brenda. Recently, Brenda received a box of 220 knitted poppies from Australia, which were a surplus from a similar initiative there. All but one of these donated poppies from Australia were placed on the hedges surrounding the cenotaph. “My thinking behind that is that Australia has embraced our veterans even though we are a hemisphere apart,” said Brenda. The remaining poppy from Australia was put on display at Rotary Park. 

There is a diminishing understanding of the true meaning of Remembrance Day, particularly since the population of aging veterans is shrinking. Brenda believes it is important to rectify this lack of understanding. She has noticed the positive impact that her initiative has made. In one case, a young boy wanted to contribute a poppy but he did not know how to knit or crochet. Brenda encouraged him to simply colour a paper poppy, which he did. She then laminated this poppy, and she returns it to the display every year as a reminder of what a big impact a small gesture can make. 

As time goes on, Brenda sees even more growth for her symbolic initiative. In the future, she would like to see poppies come in from every province. This year, she received poppies from Newfoundland. Now that she has received poppies from Australia, she would like to see if people from other countries would send poppies along as well. 

Brenda insists that she will never sell the knitted and crocheted poppies, as she feels this would take away support from the Legions’ own fundraising poppy campaign. When people want to contribute to the campaign financially, Brenda suggests that they donate some yarn. One of her favourite things to do on Remembrance Day is to sit somewhere anonymously at Rotary Park and take in the reactions of passersby as they observe the beauty of the poppy display.  

Brenda is reminding locals (and those abroad) that making poppies for the poppy display is not limited to a certain time of year. They can be dropped off at Grahame’s Bakery or mailed to her year round at Leeds Grenville Fibre Extravaganza, 779 County Road 44, Kemptville, Ontario, K0G 1J0. Anyone seeking more information can get in touch by email at [email protected]. 

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