Remembering McCrae

In 2014, Guelph, Ontario honoured John McCrae as a physician, poet, and soldier with a provincial plaque on Remembrance Day. 

Written by Canada’s History staff

Posted November 9, 2014

Each Remembrance Day Canadians take a moment to remember those who have given their hearts and lives for Canada. In those moments Canadians will most likely hear the famous three-stanza poem that reminds us of what was sacrificed, but that also motivates us to carry on their efforts.

John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields:

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.

John McCrae was a great surgeon, poet, and soldier. During the last two years of his life he became an international celebrity. McCrae was raised in Guelph, Ontario, which is where the provincial plaque honouring McCrae’s achievements and sacrifice has been recently installed.

On November 6th the plaque was formally unveiled at the Guelph Armoury. The event was co-hosted by the Royal Canadian Artillery (11th Field Regiment), McCrae’s old military unit, and Ontario Heritage Trust.

Sean Fraser, director of Heritage Programs and Operations at Ontario Heritage Trust explains that “this plaque acknowledges and celebrates all facets of [McCrae’s] personae: an exemplar citizen, highly skilled doctor, brave soldier and insightful poet.”

“He wrote his first poem and was a distinguished cadet in Guelph… His father, David, was important in founding, developing and leading the local regiment right up to the First World War,” says Fraser. After growing up in Guelph, John McCrae attended medical school in Toronto and then travelled to Montreal and the United States to further his medical career.

The plaque was officially installed on the morning of Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at the Lt-Col John McCrae Memorial Garden and Cenotaph near the corner of Water Street and McCrae Boulevard. The students and the John McCrae Public School and local School Board hosted the plaque installation.

Sean Fraser notes that “Each November when we wear a poppy to honour our veterans we have McCrae`s poem to thank. Indeed this ritual and this international icon are familiar and are in use in most nations throughout the English and French speaking world. In Flanders Fields is quite likely the most famous poem ever penned by a Canadian. All of us should be extremely proud of McCrae’s achievements, touched by his humanity and mournful of his sacrifice.”

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