Even before the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 was a part of the community, veterans were getting together.
It started with about a dozen Boer War (1899-1902) veterans holding informal meetings to keep up their friendship when they returned to Vernon. They were joined by First World War (1914-1918) veterans and met in a house on 30th Avenue as members of the British Empire Service League. The Royal Canadian Legion Vernon Branch 25 was founded Jan. 11, 1927, with 15 charter members and celebrates its 85th anniversary this year. Comrade B. Edett was the first president.
The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services was founded in 1925, bringing together several veterans’ organizations across the country. In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II granted the organization royal patronage and it became known as the Royal Canadian Legion.
At the time the Legion branches were first founded, few people at home could even imagine what the returning veterans had experienced.
“It used to be a place where the veterans could come and be with people who understood what they had been through. They could relax and talk. Maybe it was a bit of therapy for them, too,” said Carroll MacDonald, first vice-president and public relations service officer, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces on active and reserve duty for 28 years.
While the Legion started as an organization for veterans, any Canadian citizen over age 18 can become a member (in different categories) without a sponsor. Guests have to be signed in to the building by a member. The Legion provides entertainment and meals for members and guests and is active in a number of fundraising activities for community service. Members are eligible to rent a cabin or use the campgrounds at Gardom Lake and enjoy the activities and food, which includes what is called the best fish and chips in town.
Branch 25 second vice-president Jenny Negraiff, who has no military background, joined the Legion when she moved to Vernon from the coast and wanted to meet people and be involved in the community.
“I was signed in to the Legion a couple of times by a friend and liked it and decided it was something I wanted to do. I like the charity aspect of it and the way it helps veterans, as well as the camaraderie,” she said.
Branch 25 has about 1,000 members, including around 100 veterans in local care facilities. Legion members visit other members who request it and help with information and referrals about benefits and services for veterans and their families.
The annual Poppy Campaign donations are used only for assistance for veterans and their families. Legion members help organize the annual Remembrance Day services for Vernon.
“The Legion has always been a big promoter to make sure that veterans get proper care and an advocate for veterans,” said MacDonald, who would like to see more public awareness of the Legion’s service to its members and the community.
The Legion makes donations of about $50,000 each year to a variety of local charities with an emphasis on those helping youth and seniors.
The Royal Canadian Legion Vernon Branch 25 celebrates its 85th anniversary June 24 to 30 with a variety of activities to be announced. The Legion is looking for the loan of military memorabilia for an anniversary display.
For more information about the Legion, the anniversary activities, or to loan items for the display, call the office at 250-545-3295.