Canadians have traditionally admired those in the armed forces for their courage and selflessness. Though some stay in the country, while some travel to others, they all serve the same purpose; to protect our rights and freedoms. However, even after retirement, those who served in the military are still fighting a battle of their own.
The Royal Canadian Legion has branches nationwide to support veterans but, according to Trenton Branch 110 president, Manny Raspberry, many branches are fighting for their survival. Even worse, Brian MacKenize, the former president of Branch 100 in Brighton, says this is nothing new.
“I saw legions in Toronto closing down and that was 15 to 20 years ago,” said MacKenzie. He and Raspberry both mentioned although the branches are non-profit organizations, they have had to operate like businesses to avoid extinction because of a lack of members.
The legion branches include an office, and the club, accessible only to legion members. This area is usually a bar equipped with pool tables, televisions, and other forms of entertainment. The buildings are home to entertainment such as events, auctions, and different game leagues and competitions.
The interior of Branch 110 in Trenton
Interior of Branch 100.
The memberships have evolved over time. Originally, only veterans could join. Eventually, anyone with a family member who served could join and now, anyone affiliated or not, can be a member.
The Legion has been serving veterans for almost a century, by providing them with entertainment and opportunities to develop a sense of belonging.
During my time traveling to various branches, I listened to the stories veterans were willing to share. I learned about the importance of these legions and how they can serve those who served Canadians.
Raspberry discussed the Royal Canadian Legion’s history and expansion. He noted legions materialized following World War One to help veterans adjust to life after combat by acquainting them with similar individuals. The legion was adopted from the Royal British Legion which formed in 1921, shortly before its Canadian counterpart.
The most important part of the legion is the members and veterans. Speaking with veterans revealed how special these branches are. Among the veterans, many claimed their main inspiration to join was simply because they needed work.
“There wasn’t a lot of work available at that time in the early sixties, other than construction or heavy labour. I saw a chance to learn a bit with the air force about airplanes and the maintenance of them. Plus, I got to travel a lot so, that was my decision,” said Winston ‘Wes’ Young, a former Chief Warrant Officer.
Young also worked on flights for the Prime Minister and even flew with the Queen Mother, mother to the current Queen of England.
Young disclosed the Queen Mother’s thoughts during her tour of Canada in 1979. He also elaborated on his travels. When asked about the places he visited, Young states, “Well, it’s easier to say I missed one continent; I never got to the Antarctic but, I tried twice with the New Zealand air force.”
Travel was a common theme within interviews with veterans, containg most of their fondest memories. Dale Fisher, a non-member, described serving in Europe and working with multiple nationalities.
This made me realize there may be more cultural awareness within Quinte West and the military than suspected. After describing his experiences abroad, I realized how much diversity he had as an individual. In Trenton, visible diversity is meager. It reminded me to be aware of different types of diversity; someone’s appearance does not attest to who they are and what they have lived through.
can be enjoyable, it can be potentially precarious. Wayne Holland, who served in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, 8th Canadian Hussara in Petawawa, and as a fire fighter towards the end of his career, elaborated on some of the difficulties working abroad. Although he joined due to his patriotism and family’s involvement in the military, Holland explained being away from his own family while working was not always easy.
He stated having an understanding family is important to being able to deal with these absences.
Legions fuse veterans who are generations apart. The age difference between some interviewees was 20 years. This generational gap was seen in their answers when asked about misconceptions about the military, in addition to questions on how the military and its function in society have evolved.
Most veterans interviewed agreed the technology had improved immensely and some found the new equipment to be well-above their knowledge. This prompted discussions surrounding education. Although others emphasized education, MacKenzie, who retired in the sixties, believes applicants need not finish high school to enter the Canadian forces. He detailed, “The army teaches you everything. You don’t have to know anything when you go in there, believe me. They teach you how to walk.”
Interviewees reflected on their comradeship and camaraderie while serving and missed the teamwork military provided them, though, the legion helped provide this feeling. Some felt camaraderie was lacking in newer generations. Raspberry said, “I think the military used to be a career and now I think it’s mostly a job for the people. They don’t have the same comradeship, I don’t believe, and team spirit as they did in the old days.”
MacKenzie and Raspberry both mentioned the military had become more relaxed in its policies over time. Raspberry expanded on this and added to MacKenzie’s comments on human rights.
Pay was also discussed by veterans. Holland said the notion military are well-paid is a misconception. When he first started, Holland was paid $270 on a bi-weekly basis. However, MacKenzie said the military was much better paid today, claiming married men now have more money to spend on their families, and most who served during his tenure lived in trailers.
“This is peace time. You join the service today, nobody expects to go to war. Today, they’re [the military] feeding them [those serving], not needing them” noted MacKenzie.
The generational gap between veterans’ times of service may be the reason for the variance in their opinions.
All of this considered, it is clear branches are essential. The legion has been serving veterans for almost a century, by providing them with entertainment and a sense of belonging. Not only does the legion close gaps between generations of veterans, it gives veterans a place to build their own community and adjust back into the life of a civilian. Even though some branches struggle financially, they still try to contribute to the greater community.
With this, I urge people to support their local legion branches. If you know a veteran, encourage them to join a branch. Donating also contributes greatly to the cause. With the membership being available to anyone, it is a great place for anyone who appreciates the military and good company.
By Bobby Hristova
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.