The stoic grey and green fighter aircraft is perched on the side of the building like a pigeon on a power-line.
It’s the iconic image of Vernon’s unit of Canada’s oldest veterans’ association. Casting an equally vivid portrait is what happens under the Army Navy Airforce Veterans Unit 5’s Spitfire.
Hazel Sutch, unit secretary, sits at a collection of three small tables with past president and current member in charge of membership and sports Fern Dupont and longtime member and spitfire crafter Glen Fletcher. Each is clad in their ANAF gear: an emblazoned shirts and a decalled jacket sporting a golden pin in the resemblance of the unit’s sculptured mascot.
“My car just turns in here automatically,” Fletcher laughs. “It’s one of the best social places you could go to. Everybody knows about each other.”
Fletcher, a member of the ANAF for 45 years, joined after moving to Vernon from the Nicola Valley.
“It was the cheapest place to drink back then. It was only 10 cents a glass,” the former vice-president jests.
Sutch and Dupont had other motivations for joining the ANAF, but all share the same motivation for remaining: camaraderie.
“I used to belong to another organization in Penticton. We went over to the Army-Navy for karaoke. Straight away, they said, ‘Join us,’” Sutch recalls. That was nine years ago.
Dupont cuts Fletcher and Sutch’s respective tenures down the middle as she nears her third decade with the ANAF.
“That’s why I joined — most of my family was here and I wanted to help out,” Dupont says.
With its roots planted in 1971, ANAF Unit 5 is one of many chapters across Canada that fall under the association born in 1840 when Queen Victoria gave the charter to have the first unit created in Montreal.
Deriving its name from remnants of British and French colonial regiments left in Canada following their tours of protecting the colonies, the association’s founding members came together to discuss services available to them with the ending result of fraternization.
Many units have adopted their own imagery, such as Unit 5’s Spitfire.
“We were trying to just buy a plane from the Canadian government,” Fletcher recalls.
However, he says the government was asking $90,000 for a real plane to put on top of the unit.
“We said, ‘We’ll build our own plane,’” Fletcher remembers. “I said, ‘The easiest one to build would be a spitfire.’”
Originally built by Fletcher — an avid model plane builder — and fellow member Jack Brash in 1992, the full-size, 30-foot-and-10-inch-long spitfire that adorns the building features the registration numbers of Vernon Second World War veteran Philip Bodnarchuk’s Spitfire.
“His plane was shot down once, but he survived the crash,” Fletcher says of Bodnarchuk. “Other than that, he wouldn’t say too much about his life as a pilot.”
The original model was destroyed by rocks in 2010. In 2011, Fletcher took it upon himself and, with the help of other members as they were able, rebuilt the plane.
Now, more than 170 years after the association’s birth and under Unit 5’s second Spitfire, that idea of community and help for veterans still rings true.
The Spitfire Lounge is quiet as Fletcher, Sutch and Dupont talk shop. Small groups are scattered across the comfortable Unit, built in 1982, enjoying lunch and early afternoon happy hour next to the three crisp and free to use pool tables. In the hall, a group of sewers has gathered next to the white walls adorned with multiple dartboards where B.C.’s provincial dart champions practice.
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Sport, including everything from golf to bocce, is an integral cog in the Unit’s 250-member wheel.
“As a member, you’re eligible to go on any of those teams and you’re supported by the unit, ” Sutch says.
Beyond the athletics, the Unit plays home to a multitude of groups, including the 14 member Army Navy Colour Party, which participates in the Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition, Vernon Winter Carnival and the BC 55+ Games. A band also opens for the Okanagan Military Tattoo every year, the ANAF is home to the renowned Ladies Auxiliary, the lounge hosts live music every Friday and twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays is the ANAF Mega Meat Draw featuring goods from Butcher Boys. The unit also provides counselling for veterans and donates upwards of $30,000 annually to charities across Vernon.
At its core, the unit is a place for social gathering.
“From the first day, I thought, ‘This is it,’” Dupont says. “You always feel safe coming in by yourself.”
Sutch says the Unit always welcomes new members and visitors in the Spitfire Lounge.
“You can never be lonely here.”
For more information about membership to ANAF Unit 5 or inquiries about the hall rental, visit anafvetsunit5.ca or call 250-542-3277.