Doug Grant walks past one of two trophy field guns on permanent display in Esquimalt’s Memorial Park, the silence broken only by fallen oak and maple leaves lightly crunching at his feet.
As secretary manager for Legion 172 at the corner of Admirals and Esquimalt roads, Grant spends much of his time listening to veterans kind enough to share their war experiences with him.
“I really believe in what veterans have done,” says the 25-year naval veteran, stopping beside the park’s cenotaph. Esquimalt parks staff are working feverishly to complete major upgrades at the park in time for the township’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony.
Grant has served as master of ceremonies for the last 17 years at the Nov. 11 event. As always, two platoons from CFB Esquimalt, veterans, cadets, scouts and girl guides will march from the legion to the park, where they’ll join supporters and family to remember those who died and the service of many others.
“Each year, the cenotaph is getting busier and busier,” Grant says. “I think that the young are now understanding that perhaps we should pay attention to what veterans did, because we’re living this good life (thanks to) what they accomplished for us.”
Established in 1924 to commemorate First World War veterans, the park’s cenotaph now includes plaques that honour soldiers and merchant marines of the Second World War, Korean War and peacekeepers.
In his 22 years in his role at the legion, Grant continues to be humbled by the generosity of many of these veterans, who each year quietly donate tens of thousands of dollars to kids in the community, mostly to help pay for sports.
“You won’t find a veteran that sees a child less fortunate that they wouldn’t help instantaneously,” he says.
There is a significant change coming to the Esquimalt legion, as a project 13 years in the making is poised to finally get approval from the municipality. The legion envisions a mixed residential-commercial building on their current site with affordable seniors housing that will become a thriving community hub.
“I’ve been working on (the project) for 13 years,” Grant said. Now that work is on the cusp of approval, Grant anticipates the new facility will take about two years to complete. In the meantime, the legion hopes to lease a 5,000-square-foot former liquor store next door that was recently transferred to the Songhees Nation.
“We would like to move in there until our property is finished,” Grant said. “We do have a good relationship with the Songhees.”
The other looming task for Grant and his colleagues is figuring out how to bring new members to the legion. He’s seen membership more than halve in the past two decades, from a high of 2,200 to roughly 900 members today.
“There’s a fallacy somewhere along the line that you have to be a member of the military to be a member of the legion, and that’s not true. Anyone can become a member,” Grant says. “We have our doors open, and we’ve got lots of room. There’s many reasons to join the legion other than just to have a drink.”