Legion to mark Nov. 11 in its new Kanata home
There is a sense of ceremony, yet practicality, to the modern building that reflects the organization’s tradition, MARIA COOK reports.
Dignity. Modesty. Symbolism. These words begin to tell the story of the new national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Legion built in Kanata.
The three- storey building, which opened in September, is located on Aird Place at Castlefrank Road, just west of the Kanata Wave Pool. It is identified by a red poppy emblem and the Legion House sign on the wall facing the Queensway, and can be seen by westbound travellers.
“ We wanted it to be a very visible presence of the Legion,” says Dominion secretary Duane Daly, who is the Legion’s chief administrative officer. “ It had to be a conservative, decorous building, but not over the top.”
The Legion is one of Canada’s largest service organizations, with 400,000 mem- bers, 1,500 branches and a $ 10- million annual operating budget. It perpetuates the tradition of remembrance in Canada and advocates on behalf of veterans and ex- service members — including today’s Gulf War veterans and United Nations peacekeepers — for pensions and disability awards.
Each year, the Legion organizes and runs the National Poppy and Remembrance Campaign to remind Canadians of the 117,000 men and women who have given their lives in the defence of Canada during two world wars, the Korean War and other military missions.
But the Legion is more than that. It spends $ 3.9 million a year on needy veterans, supports cadets, scouts and guides, and advances amateur sport; Wayne Gretzky participated in Legion sports programs, and all Canadian medal winners at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were alumni of the Legion’s track and field camps.
“ The Legion has a large place in the Canadian psyche,” says Anthony Leaning, of CSV Architects, the Ottawa firm that designed the building and oversaw its construction. “ They do amazing things. They were looking for a chance to celebrate that.”
The 32,000- square- foot building is covered in red and buff- coloured brick. Part of the front façade is clad with Tyndall stone. Five flag poles fly the colours of the Legion. The building, plus land, cost about $ 6 million.
A long inclined walkway from Castlefrank is lined with planters, which will hold red flowering plants to recall Remembrance Day poppies. The forecourt is formal, landscaped with a rectangular lawn and paving.
Ottawa landscape architect David Lashley carries through the red theme with maples and burning bush.
“ There’s a sense of ceremony about the building,” says architect Robert Froom, the chief designer. “ It’s not an ordinary office building.”
It includes a 7,000- squarefoot warehouse for the organization’s $ 2- million- a- year business distributing Legion products such as uniforms, flags, bumper stickers and pins. About 50 people work in the building in finance, membership, communication and so on, and Legion magazine, the fourth largest magazine in Canada, is produced. And the service bureau helps about 1,000 veterans, still- serving military and RCMP personnel and dependants in their bid to obtain disability pensions and benefits.
Mr. Daly had envisioned a one- storey building to avoid the wasted space and expense of stairs and elevators, but the architects pointed out that it could be more economical to build on three levels. Because the site is sloped, “ we realized that to give the building some presence, we needed to get it up higher,” adds Mr. Froom. “ We put the warehouse beneath the building to raise it up.”
In 1956, when the former headquarters on Kent Street in Centretown opened, then- governor general Vincent Massey said the building represented the Legion’s commitment to freedom, justice and truth. “ I feel this structure symbolizes so well the Legion’s two great functions — one spiritual, one physical,” he told dignitaries at the opening ceremony. “ You are pledged to keep alive the flame of remembrance for those who died in their country’s service, and you work faithfully in the interests of those among us who bore arms.”
There are more than 250,000 war veterans in Canada, although they are gradually disappearing — the average age of Second World War veterans is 82 and Korean veterans are in their 70s. Faced with an aging six- storey building, the Legion decided to sell rather than upgrade, and use the proceeds for a purpose- built structure.
The old building “ was very expensive to maintain,” says Mr. Daly. “ It was too large for our requirements. We were having to function as a landlord.”
In addition to needing a warehouse, the Legion wanted to be near a hotel and restaurants. It hosts about 40 meetings a year for committees and the executive council.
“ We would have preferred a site in the downtown core, but there were none that met our requirements,” says Mr. Daly.
The two- acre site provides pedestrian access to accommodation, restaurants and shopping at the Centrum plaza and the Kanata Town Centre.
The bridge adjacent to the Legion’s building, the Castlefrank Road- Kanata Avenue overpass, is about to become part of the Legion’s identity. The city and the Legion will hold a dedication ceremony on Dec. 1 to name it Valour Bridge. The project marks the Legion’s 80th anniversary this year. Plaques will be affixed to pillars at either end of the bridge.
On the inside walls of the bridge will be 16 smaller plaques, commemorating significant battles and missions involving the Canadian Forces.
Inside the building, a doubleheight foyer features a red wall, where a 3.3- metre stainless steel sculpture depicting the Sword of Sacrifice will be mounted next week, as will text from the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon: “ At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them.”
Architects Robert Froom, left, and Anthony Leaning survey their firm’s work at Legion House. Mr. Leaning says the organization enjoys ‘ a large place in the Canadian psyche. They do amazing things. They were looking for a chance to celebrate that.’