Several Greater Victoria branches of the Royal Canadian Legion are managing to survive the pandemic, but their long-term success depends on reconnecting with veterans and the community.
Membership peaked after the First World War – the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League was founded in 1925 and became the Royal Canadian Legion in 1960 – and later after the Second World War, times when almost everyone had either served in one of the wars themselves or was related to someone who had.
More recently numbers have dwindled and, combined with the pandemic, branches across the country have closed.
“It’s definitely been a struggle. We are going to lose branches in B.C. over this,” Angus Stanfield, chairman of the B.C./Yukon Legion Foundation and said, speaking at Trafalgar/Pro Patria Branch 292 on Gorge Road in Victoria.
Of course, Canadians continue to serve in the military and continue to require the support and community that legions are intended to provide. In 2020, Veterans Affairs Canada estimated there were 629,300 veterans in the country.
But Norm Scott, president of the Prince Edward Branch 91 in Langford, said several factors have kept younger veterans away.
He said in the past some branches have been less welcoming to non-world war veterans and, because the legion isn’t allowed to have much of a political voice, its lack of push-back on government policies has upset others. In some cases, people simply don’t know what the legion has to offer.
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The Branch 292 legion, for example, funds post-traumatic stress counselling, service dogs, training to transition military skills into trades, and veterans housing among many other services. It can also help people with Veterans Affairs paperwork and provide a space for shared experiences.
“We’re comrades that stick together,” Scott said.
Legions are also community gathering spaces that host a variety of activities, from dances to karaoke to darts, with full kitchens that serve up hot meals. Anyone can become a member, not just veterans – a policy that was loosened up to broaden the reach some years ago.
“We encourage people to go to their local legion and see if there is something that appeals to them. It’s a warm, safe environment,” Stanfield said.
Of course, above all legions exist to keep history alive and remind people of the sacrifices that were made.
“That’s our main priority, to keep people remembering,” said Bob Bourdage, sergeant-at-arms at the Langford branch.
If funding and membership allows, these two branches and others around Greater Victoria hope to continue this mission for many years to come.
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