Stand­ing the test of time

Le­gion rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­flects on how its changed, what the fu­ture holds

Annapolis Valley Register - - COVER STORY - BY MILLICENT MCKAY SALTWIRE NET­WORK

With more than 100 le­gion branches in Nova Sco­tia, the le­gion has man­aged to stand the test of time.

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

Wes­sell is the son of a Sec­ond World War vet­eran. It’s the con­nec­tion that led to his le­gion ca­reer 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. 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 some le­gions have thrived more than oth­ers.

“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.

The ru­ral prob­lem

Un­like P. E. I., where ru­ral branches seem to be thriv­ing, be­ing ru­ral is hav­ing 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. 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.”

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, whether that be from new mem­bers or vet­er­ans that have grown old and passed away. We’ve also had some close 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 mem­ber­ship was an ef­fort to keep num­bers up while rec­og­niz­ing 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.

It’s im­por­tant the le­gion grows, he added.

“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.”

While he ex­pects there may be more le­gions lost, the ones that re­main will con­tinue to be strong in their com­mu­nity.

“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.”

In Nova Sco­tia, branches have prided them­selves on the sup­ports they’ve pro­vided to vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing vet­er­ans’ outreach pro­grams.

“Help­ing those vets is cru­cial to the sur­vival of le­gions in Nova Sco­tia … we have ther­a­peu­tic paint­ing classes we’ve started up. Fly ty­ing pro­grams that are de­vel­oped and are part­nered with Pawz Fur Thought for PTSD ser­vice dogs that we de­vel­oped here in Nova Sco­tia … We have over 115 vet­er­ans part­nered with PTSD ser­vice dogs across Canada.”

The pro­gram was started by Medric Cousineau, a re­tired Seak­ing nav­i­ga­tor and Star of Courage re­cip­i­ent.

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

“It is a topic that is dis­cussed around the le­gion. It is a re­quire- ment. Un­for­tu­nately, the Cana­dian govern­ment is turn­ing a blind eye to it right now … we’re try­ing as hard as we can to make the fed­eral govern­ment un­der­stand that the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, gives back mil­lions of dol­lars over the run of a year to as­sist the vet­er­ans.”

Proud of pop­pies

Wes­sell says the re­mem­brance cam­paigns in Nova Sco­tia, like the poppy cam­paign is very vi­brant.

“I’ve found the gen­eral pub­lic of Nova Sco­tia to be very re­cep­tive. They give quite gen­er­ously. They’re also very re­cep­tive to the ser­vices at the ceno­taphs across the prov­ince. The crowds have been very large over the last 10 to 15 years and grow­ing due to our in­volve­ment with the chil­dren through cadets, Girl Guides, Cubs and Scouts and pro­grams of send­ing vets to schools to talk to kids and teach them and keep re­mem­brance alive in our younger gen­er­a­tions. If not for the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, who else would be do­ing it? The le­gion has a job to do.”

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