by Paula Kully –
I was happy to read in the Globe and Mail recently that there is a rise in young people attending Remembrance Day ceremonies and wearing poppies. The renewed interest has been attributed to increased efforts to share veterans’ stories in schools and other public spaces. Undoubtedly, much of this is due to the work of veterans’ organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, which is committed to ensuring Canadians never forget.
In fact, the Legion has developed a teaching guide for primary and secondary teachers, and they conduct an annual Remembrance-themed poster, literary and video contest with some remarkable prizes including a trip to Ottawa. Winners have their work published in the Military Service Recognition Book, a fundraising initiative that has been published annually since 2005 by the British Columbia /Yukon Command.
The country’s first Legion was founded in Winnipeg in 1925 as “The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League” and was incorporated by a special Act of Parliament. In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II gave her consent to use the prefix “Royal,” and the organization became known as The Royal Canadian Legion. Today, the Legion is the largest veterans and community service organization in the country with 275,000 members and 1,400 branches nationwide.
Here on the Saanich Peninsula, our local Legion Branch 37 is located on Mills Road in North Saanich. Founded 92 years ago in 1926, it currently has 210 active members consisting of veterans, their family members, police officers, fire fighters and other people with a connection to the armed forces. It is a non-profit, service organization with a primary focus on veterans’ care and Remembrance.
The Legion raises funds for programs that support veterans, local youth, sports teams, student bursaries and much more through activities like Meat Draws (every Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.). At this time of year, they are most notable for the annual Poppy Campaign and Remembrance Day Ceremony. The Poppy Campaign not only raises money: it also stands as a reminder of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and keeps the term “Lest we Forget” at the forefront of people’s minds.
Each year, some 60 to 70 local Legion volunteers spend many hours stuffing envelopes, and collecting donations for poppies, which are the international symbol of remembrance. The Legion obtains their poppies from the Dominion Command Office in Ottawa, which distributes close to 20 million poppies each year.
This year, along with the usual Remembrance Day Ceremonies, the Legion has coordinated the “Bells of Peace” initiative in honour of the 100th year anniversary of the end of WWI on November 11, 1918. In communities across the country, a bell will be rung 100 times at sunset in remembrance of those who served in WWI. The Legion has endorsed Sidney’s Town Crier Kenny Podmore to ring the bell for the Saanich Peninsula at the Cenotaph in Sidney beginning at 4:39 p.m.
Although the Legion has traditionally been a veteran’s organization, it also attracts young people and takes a serious role in supporting youth in the community. For instance, Ryan Trelford, the current Communications Director for the Legion, is only 23 years old. He was inspired first to join the Sea Cadets and then the Legion by his Grandfather who was in the Navy. When Ryan’s grandfather passed away in 2014 he, along with his grandmother and mother, joined the Legion as a way to remember his grandfather and to support other veterans. During his time with Cadets, Ryan developed a friendship with local WWII veteran, Commander Peter Goodwin Chance (see Ryan and Peter Chance at left). Since 2008, he has laid a wreath with him on Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph in Sidney.
Ryan expresses his vision of the Legion by saying: “Numbers of veterans are declining – they won’t be here forever. As we approach the Remembrance season, take a moment and talk to someone who served in the armed forces and thank them for their service. Get to know them a little better, and maybe even consider getting involved in the Poppy Campaign. Volunteers are always needed, from stuffing envelopes to canvassing for donations. Every bit counts to show veterans, Canadians and people around the world that we will remember them.” ~ Lest we forget