If not the Le­gion, then who?

Former pres­i­dent of Nova Sco­tia/Nu­navut Com­mand re­flects on how it’s changed, what the fu­ture holds


With more than 100 branches in Nova Sco­tia, the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion has stood the test of time.

“It’s cer­tainly evolved over the last 92 years,” said Steve Wes­sell, im­me­di­ate past pres­i­dent of Nova Sco­tia/Nu­navut Com­mand.

Wes­sell is the son of a Sec­ond World War vet­eran, a con­nec­tion that led to his time with the le­gion be­gin­ning 43 years ago.

“It’s some­thing I’ve seen evolve over the years. I’ve seen many, many of my old com­rades of the Sec­ond World War pass away and have passed the torch onto peo­ple like my­self,” he says. “I used to con­sider my­self the young guy of the group and had help from the older vets that were in­volved in my le­gion and the com­mand. Now they’ve passed that onto me and I’m one of the older guys who’s try­ing to pass it on to the younger peo­ple that are com­ing for­ward.”

But there are le­gions that have thrived over oth­ers, he con­cedes.

“There are many ru­ral le­gions that have been around for a long time. My branch in par­tic­u­lar, No. 160, has been around since 1967, Cen­ten­nial Branch.”

The prov­ince’s Mid­dle­ton Branch No. 1 is the old­est.

But un­like P.E.I. where ru­ral branches seem to be the ones thriv­ing, be­ing ru­ral has an op­po­site ef­fect on Nova Sco­tia branches.

“The ru­ral ar­eas have a ten­dency to suf­fer a bit more than the city branches due to the fact that there isn’t as great a pop­u­la­tion,” says Wes­sel. “But there are some that still con­tinue to be suc­cess­ful. In the smaller towns, where one is only a few miles away from the other, there is quite a com­pe­ti­tion. Ob­vi­ously, we have our rea­son for be­ing, so they sur­vive.”

He says there have been a number of clo­sures over the years.

“And it’s due mainly to at­tri­tion within the area. I mean we’ve had some small towns and vil­lages that have had to give up their char­ter, so to speak, be­cause they can’t sur­vive. Some have folded due to a lack of mem­ber­ship.

“We’ve also had some due to fi­nan­cial rea­sons over the years.”

Wes­sell says the prov­ince’s mem­ber­ship num­bers are mainly made up of civil­ians – af­fil­i­ates and as­so­ci­ates.

“There’s also a strong still serv­ing Cana­dian forces mem­ber base. And be­cause Royal Cana­dian Le­gion mem­ber­ship is open to all Cana­di­ans we have more as­so­ciate mem­bers (fam­ily mem­bers of an armed forces per­son­nel or vet) than vet­eran mem­bers.”

He says open­ing up mem­ber­ship was an ef­fort to main­tain num­bers while rec­og­niz­ing that if there was some­one who wanted to be part of the com­mu­nity and help the vet­eran pop­u­la­tion there was no rea­son they shouldn’t be able to.

“Our vet­eran pop­u­la­tion is wide and var­ied. It’s ob­vi­ously pro­gressed from those of World War One to the Sec­ond and then Korea, peace­keep­ing and then Afghanistan. Not to men­tion the var­i­ous other ar­eas that Cana­di­ans have fought in re­cently.”

He added it’s im­por­tant the Le­gion grows and ex­pands.

“The Le­gion has to change its at­ti­tude to­wards it­self and the way we treat our vet­er­ans in or­der to progress into the fu­ture. And we’re do­ing that through cen­tral­iz­ing our fo­cus on younger vet­er­ans – those who have fought and served re­cently, es­pe­cially those that are re­turn­ing from over­seas now,” he says.

While Wes­sel ex­pects there may be more le­gion branches lost, the ones that re­main will be strong in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“The le­gion has al­ways been a fo­cal point of many small towns. And I can’t see the day when a Royal Cana­dian Le­gion won’t be around. Not in my time I hope any­way.”

“It’s a mat­ter of us be­com­ing more re­lat­able to the younger, mod­ern vet­er­ans.”

In Nova Sco­tia, Le­gion branches have prided them­selves on the sup­ports they’ve pro­vided to their vet­er­ans.

The Le­gion in Nova Sco­tia has de­vel­oped many vet­er­ans’ out­reach pro­grams to reach out and help the mod­ern-day vets, he says.

“Help­ing those vets is cru­cial to the sur­vival of le­gions in Nova Sco­tia. We have to grow and move for­ward along with our vet­eran pop­u­la­tion. We can’t just have our le­gions as a place where we make it ac­ces­si­ble for them to come in, sit around and talk to one an­other, be­cause that’s not the way the younger gen­er­a­tion wants to do things now.

“If the younger gen­er­a­tion wants to talk to one an­other they’re go­ing to do it through so­cial me­dia, phones, tablets… they’re not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to gather in one spot as our older vet­er­ans did and still do.”

Wes­sell says ther­a­peu­tic paint­ing classes have been started, along with fly-ty­ing pro­grams and a part­ner­ship with Pawz Fur Thought for PTSD ser­vice dogs, de­vel­oped in Nova Sco­tia. The Paws Fur Thought pro­gram has more than 115 vet­er­ans part­nered with PTSD ser­vice dogs across Canada. It was started by Medric Cousineau, a re­tired Sea King nav­i­ga­tor and Star of Courage re­cip­i­ent and his wife in East­ern Pas­sage.

Funds are also raised across the prov­ince to ac­quire and train dogs from across the prov­ince.

“It’s a grow­ing con­cern in our vet­eran com­mu­nity – the ef­fects of men­tal health prob­lems among vets. We found that these PTSD ser­vice dogs are a tremen­dous calm­ing ef­fect on vets and it’s one of our pro­grams that we have to put ev­ery­thing we can into, to help vet­er­ans. There’s about a two-year wait­ing list to get a dog.”

Men­tal health is an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion on the ta­ble right now.

The remembrance cam­paigns in Nova Sco­tia, like the Poppy Cam­paign, are very vi­brant.

“I’ve found the gen­eral pub­lic of Nova Sco­tia to be very re­cep­tive. They give quite gen­er­ously,” he says.

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