Col McRae was a physician with the Canadian army in WW1. The poem is universal Im sure but rings particular bells with many Canadians ( especially those of us whose family members served in the two wars) who celebrate the memory on November 11. I dont know how long the poppy itself has been the symbol of remembrance but here in Canada the Royal Canadian Legion 'sells' ( for whatever you wish to donate) poppies every November and the money goes to assist veterans in need.
When doing my research I came to realize this poem did indeed hold particular importance with Canadians. In fact the significance is quoted on one site as:
The poem has achieved near-mythic status in contemporary Canada and is one of the nation's most prominent symbols. Most Remembrance Day ceremonies will feature a reading of the poem in some form, and many Canadian schoolchildren memorize the verse.
I also read about the ceremonies that occur on November 11th. It is inspiring. I wish we did the same here. When I lived in the UK, remembrance day was a HUGE deal. Not quite the same here but perhaps if more and more people stop for a moment to remember that will begin to change.
As in UK the remembrance ceremonies in Canada are held on the llth hour of the llth day of the llth month which was when the WW1 armistance was signed. The day is a national 'holiday' . When I was young no stores opened until after the ceremonies. Now it seems that does not matter but I venture to guess that almost every city and town in the country has a ceremony of some kind, most at a war memorial.
A few years ago, at the National ceremony in Ottawa, after the burial of the unknown soldier ( a very recent event at the memorial) people spontaneously took off their poppies and laid them on the tomb- now it happens every year.