Le­gion re­mains a part of the Is­land mo­saic

Through ups and downs, P.E.I. stands as ev­i­dence the Le­gion has its place


Given its pop­u­la­tion, you wouldn’t ex­pect P.E.I. to have had 33 suc­cess­ful Le­gion branches in its hey­day.

“There were quite a few, and there still are, when you think about the pop­u­la­tion of the Is­land,” said Owen Park­house, vice-pres­i­dent of P.E.I. Provin­cial Com­mand of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion.

That num­ber now stand at 17. The old­est branch on the Is­land is Char­lot­te­town No. 1 – depend­ing on who you talk to.

“There’s a bit of a ri­valry be­tween Char­lot­te­town and O’Leary Branch No. 2,” he said with a chuckle.

“Tech­ni­cally, Char­lot­te­town is the old­est Le­gion on the Is­land but there is some de­bate over that be­cause O’Leary tech­ni­cally formed first, but they re­ceived their char­ter after Char­lot­te­town.”

O’Leary’s mem­ber­ship formed around 1926 and Char­lot­te­town fol­lowed just after that. But Char­lot­te­town re­ceived their char­ter on April 1, 1928 and O’Leary got theirs on Oct. 1, 1928.

“So, there was about six months in the dif­fer­ence. But tech­ni­cally O’Leary did form first, in that they were a col­lec­tion of vet­er­ans that came to­gether and de­cided to open a lo­ca­tion.”

He says ev­ery ori­gin, while based out of the need for a united voice for vet­er­ans, has its own back story.

“They all formed for the same pur­pose, but it’s what makes up their his­tory that makes them dif­fer­ent. A cou­ple of Le­gions don’t have build­ings any­more, but they’re still thriv­ing as non-build­ing Le­gions. Mount Ste­wart is an ex­am­ple, so is Mor­rell. So, the Le­gion is a name that still at­tracts mem­bers and car­ries on the work of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“And even though they lost the build­ing it shows their de­sire to sur­vive. On­line plat­forms have also played a role in the sur­vival of Le­gions.”

At time of their for­ma­tion, he said, the Great War Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion was bat­tling sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions try­ing to achieve the same goal. He says some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing to­day.

“We’ve got all these vet­eran or­ga­ni­za­tions pop­ping up after Afghanistan and it’s a dis­uni­fied voice right now.”

As for P.E.I. branches, cur­rent suc­cess varies.

“Some have been do­ing ex­cel­lent, oth­ers have been strug­gling – there’s no doubt about that,” Park­house said solemnly.

“But it’s just the ebb and flow of mem­ber­ship. Mem­ber­ship is the key to the suc­cess of any le­gion. And when you start to lose your Sec­ond World War vet­er­ans, which is what is hap­pen­ing, and the new vet­er­ans haven’t been sign­ing up like the First and Sec­ond World war vets did, it’s an is­sue.”

Park­house said lower mem­ber­ship num­bers also come as a re­sult of a dis­pute.

“I think the vet­er­ans feel the Le­gion sold them out by back­ing the New Vet­eran’s Char­ter but the fact is the NVC was sup­posed to be a liv­ing doc­u­ment, that’s the way the gov­ern­ment sold it to the Le­gion, so it was sup­posed to be a doc­u­ment that was chang­ing. And it is start­ing to change now.” The NVC was adopted in 2006. At the time, it was thought the NVC could pro­vide ben­e­fits the for­mer man­date could not, in­clud­ing more sup­port than the Pen­sion Act pro­vided. Be­cause the need for a new char­ter was met with ur­gency, it was not re­viewed, clause-by-clause in par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee or the se­nate. But its in­stal­la­tion was met with con­tempt and mem­bers of the Le­gion have called for changes and re­in­state­ment of ben­e­fits that were avail­able preNVC. This in­cluded the Pen­sion for Life pro­gram. De­tails about the new pro­gram are scarce and Le­gion rep­re­sen­ta­tives say they con­tinue to press for im­prove­ments of the NVC.

“I think a lot of vet­er­ans will be happy about that, and I think the Le­gion has been back­ing that since 2006, for the re-in­state­ment of that pro­gram.” Ma­noeu­vring back to the topic of suc­cess, Park­house says Le­gions that have thrived are of­ten the only so­cial venue for the area.

“Like Welling­ton, they’re do­ing well, Tig­nish is do­ing quite well, Kingston is do­ing very well and they had a very suc­cess­ful chase the ace, which cer­tainly gave them the cap­i­tal they needed to al­low them to con­tinue to go on for some time.”

Chase the ace and other fundrais­ing ini­tia­tives have helped, he added.

“It comes down to good lead­er­ship and that lead­er­ship from the mem­ber­ship. So, the ones that are do­ing well have that, the good fi­nan­cial sense to re­main in the black rather than go in the red and adapt with the times.” No mat­ter what, Le­gions con­tinue to be a part of so­ci­ety’s mo­saic, weav­ing their own story as times change.

“They have to move with the times. And I think they’ve re­al­ized that. And they’re be­com­ing a bit more in tune with the new gen­er­a­tion. You know, be­cause in the past there was a fo­cus on per­haps sports that weren’t likely to get the new vet­er­ans in, like darts and shuf­fle­board, so the le­gion is start­ing to rec­og­nize the need for new plat­forms like video games and what­not.

“They’ve done their best to change with the times. They’ve ren­o­vated their build­ings. They’ve moved to new ones.”

A good ex­am­ple is Kens­ing­ton, where the build­ing was old and di­lap­i­dated. Rather than see their Le­gion fold they found a way to sur­vive and move into a new build­ing.

“For the fu­ture, Le­gions have to look at what peo­ple are in­ter­ested in now, the video lot­tery games, which peo­ple wanted. The le­gion has to move with what the vet­er­ans need.”

Park­house re­called a time, be­lieved to be the 1960s when a group of young­sters was go­ing to go to the le­gion. Be­fore they left, their mother told them they had to put on their Sun­day best be­cause they were go­ing to be meet­ing vet­er­ans.

“So that shows where the le­gion was held in re­gard, es­pe­cially in small com­mu­ni­ties’” he said. “And for the most part it still is. I don’t think peo­ple dress in their Sun­day bests to go there. But I think peo­ple have a deep re­spect for vet­er­ans, still, and I think the le­gion is held in high re­gard for what it does for vet­er­ans. Le­gion re­mains very much a fab­ric of Cana­dian life, he con­cluded.

“And in small com­mu­ni­ties even more so. There isn’t any­one who doesn’t know some­one who got mar­ried in a le­gion, had their re­cep­tion there, the wakes after the loss of a loved one. Le­gions have been the hub for get­ting to­gether for com­mu­nity meet­ings. They’ve been the cen­tre of fundrais­ing, and for good times and bad times.”

Owen Park­house, vice-pres­i­dent of P.E.I. Provin­cial Com­mand of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion

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