By MPP Toby Barrett
Every year on Remembrance Day, the Royal Canadian Legion is front and centre in communities across the country. Legion members do so much in addition to marching in parades, hosting dinners, and selling poppies. The Legion is much more than that.
The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League, was formed in 1925 to provide a strong voice for veterans. In 1960, it became our familiar and welcoming Royal Canadian Legion.
Simcoe Branch #79 was the first in our area. Like many branches, it has dinners, but also recently added a dinner theatre and has opened a museum room. This Nov. 11 the branch hosted the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Norfolk’s second and third Legions, #123 Waterford and #125 Delhi Major Walter Barnard, opened in 1928. Barnard, the clerk and mayor of Delhi, was a First World War veteran. Waterford Legion was originally in the present-day Orange Hall and on St. James St. before the move to Nichol Street in 1974. A few unique features of Waterford are its artifact cabinet and an artificial Christmas tree inside the front door with photos of all member veterans.
Dunnville Branch #142 was the first to form in Haldimand County, chartered in 1929. It was in several locations before ending up on Queen Street in the 1950s. A striking feature of the branch is one of the largest war medal displays in Canada.
Before 1929 was over, Caledonia #154 and Cayuga #159 opened. Caledonia was in two other locations before its present building on Caithness. Cayuga constructed a new building in 1975.
Port Dover #158 Hugh Allan Branch has an interesting story. The land was donated by Allan in 1929. When the Second World War broke out, he became a Chief Engineer in the merchant navy. Allan was lost at sea when a German U-boat torpedoed the steamer he was on Feb. 22, 1942.
A number of other branches opened in the years following the Second World War.
Branch #164 Hagersville was originally started by First World War veterans but ceased operation in 1932. The original charter was revived by servicemen returning home in 1945. They met in a couple of different buildings before finding their permanent home in 1948.
Branch #379 Port Rowan General Blacklock branch started in 1948. Blacklock was a Boer War veteran with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He moved to Port Rowan in 1904, but returned to England at the outbreak of the First World War. After the war, Blacklock, a decorated general, lived in Port Rowan until his death in 1936. One of the attractions of the branch is a licensed patio.
The Wagner Memorial Branch #526 in Teeterville has a sad story. It is named in honour of the Wagner brothers – Howard, Ivan and Harry – who were all killed within six months in the Second World War. It was opened in 1951 by Second World War veterans.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada traces its history back to 1840 and was incorporated federally in 1917. Downtown Simcoe has an active branch, that started in 1936.
As we wrap up this time of Remembrance, it’s important to note Legions are a constant and year-round reminder of the price so many paid for our privilege to live in a free and democratic society.