A group of people are busy behind the scenes at the Trafalgar/Pro Patria Branch 292 of the Royal Canadian Legion on Gorge Road.
Volunteers with the Victoria Remembrance Day Committee Poppy Fund, they’re preparing more poppy boxes, organizing ribbons for the wreaths to be placed at the legislature cenotaph on Nov. 11 and counting money and writing receipts for people who have mailed in donations to the cause.
Money collected through this annual campaign, usually in the neighbourhood of $200,000 and steadily rising, says volunteer and Poppy Fund spokesperson Angus Stanfield, go to local programs benefiting Canadian veterans and their families.
“There will be over 20 million poppies distributed this year in Canada,” he said.
He noted that approximately $19 million was distributed nationally in 2015 to veterans, their families and various programs.
Here at home, the larger grants given in 2017 with proceeds from the Poppy Fund included $25,000 for the Legion Manor retirement complex in Central Saanich, $20,000 for Broadmead Care in Royal Oak, up to $20,000 for Cockrell House in Colwood and an equal amount for the Veterans Transition Program, which helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder get back into the workforce.
The iconic poppy boxes are a fixture on the front counters of numerous businesses around town. Combined with cash collected from volunteers offering poppies by donation at high-profile locations like liquor stores or shopping malls, it accounts for about half of the total revenue from the program, with mailed-in donations accounting for the remainder, Stanfield said.
With the veterans who kept the Legions going strong in years past gradually passing on, many of the estimated 300 volunteers who help out this campaign, such as Stanfield, have different connections to the military.
His grandfather was a piper in the First World War and suffered from what is today called PTSD, and his father sailed on a corvette in the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War. Stanfield, who proudly plays his grandfather’s 102-year-old bagpipes today, serves various roles provincially and nationally with the Legion and said volunteering to help veterans just came naturally.
“I think this time of year is for everybody to remember how lucky we are; there’s a reason why we live in the best country in the world. There’s a lot of people who paid an awful price for it,” he said. “When my grandfather came home from the First World War, he’d been gassed for one thing, but he was severely traumatized …grandpa had demons, he would get nightmares.”
The focus on veterans and the role they played for Canada culminates in Remembrance Day ceremonies Nov. 11 in Victoria and around the Capital Region. Stanfield said the services remain an important way to bring communities together.
“At our cenotaphs right across the country, the turnout, it seems to be growing again every year. Afghanistan really brought it to the forefront,” he said, noting that more people today are closely connected with people with wartime or battle experience. “We certainly don’t glorify war or anything like that, the absolute opposite, but we do honour the people that served.”
For more information or to volunteer with the Victoria Remembrance Day Committee Poppy Fund, call 250-386-2533 or drop by the Pro Patria Legion at 411 Gorge Rd. E.