Every Remembrance Day, for as long as I can remember, I spent with my Dad. Whether it was at a Cenotaph, in an arena or auditorium, or beside a sickbed; I was with my Hero… my Dad at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This year, I will stop at the appointed time and take pause with 2 minutes of silence & reflection to remember, but this year will be different. I will be on my own. I will be remembering my Dad.
Dad enlisted before he had turned 18 and fought in the 2nd World War and in Korea. He served in Canada, Britain, the Central Mediterranean Area, Northwest Europe and the Far East. I now cherish the medals and decorations he was the recipient of. His documents say they are the 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp and War Medal 1939-45, Korea Medal and United Nations Service Medal. He wore them proudly.He was a proud Veteran and taught me well what the day represented. He was a proud Father & Grandfather especially when accompanied by his sons & grandsons who also served our country.
In his civilian life he continued to serve his Country & Community and received the Commemorative Medal marking the 125th anniversary of Confederation. He was also very active in his Legion for many years. In fact, many of our family celebrations took place at the Legion. Today I would like to share an article that my Dad wrote about the Legion in Niagara Falls, ON. It appeared in the Niagara Falls Review in a section called First Words.
LEGION HAS LONG HISTORY HERE By BILL GILLIES
The first veterans organization to form in Niagara Falls was known as The Great War Veterans Association. This group came together in 1917. Then in 1925 the many and diverse veterans organizations decided they would be more effective as a single group and The Royal Canadian Legion became a reality, as the Branch 51 indicates Niagara Falls Received the 50 first charter in Ontario.
The Royal Canadian Legion from its beginning was first and foremost about remembrance. The Legion conducts annual services of remembrance in our nations capital and in communities throughout Canada on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month. These services are in memory and to honour our comrades who made the supreme sacrifice for their country. Every year youth Remembrance Day essay, poster and poem contest are held with the winners, at the national level, being taken to Ottawa for the Nov. 11 service. The Silver Cross Mother representing mothers across Canada who lost sons and daughters during conflict in which our country was involved is sponsored by the Legion.
The first Legion building was on Roberts Street but the longtime home of Branch 51 remembered by many in Niagara was the white frame house on Victoria Ave. at Stamford Street, that was home from 1918 to 1971. In the beginning at our first home, support was provided mainly for veterans as many servicemen and women returning from the First World War suffering from war related illness and wounds were left on their own. It will be a surprise to many that 18 to 20 veterans at one time were housed and fed at Branch 51; there was no other help for our returning heroes.
Through the ensuing years a Second World War and the Korean War there was no shortage of service work on behalf of veterans but it was only a matter of time until we reached out to serve the community at large. In the past 10 years Branch 51 has donated $17,000 a year to the community plus donations from poppy funds and our ladies auxiliary.
A story about the Legion without prominent mention of our Ladies Auxiliary would be remiss; it is the ladies who prepare and serve the delicious dinners at all our social events.
In addition, the ladies have bake sales, fashion shows and craft shows to raise money that is returned to the Legion in millions of dollars annually. Then in their spare time the ladies hold euchre games and help at bingo, it is hard to find an activity at the Legion that they are not involved in. The ladies also offer student bursaries and scholarships from secondary school to university level as well as school of nursing and schools for the handicapped.
The Royal Canadian Legion community assistance goes to many diverse groups but perhaps our favourite has been the youth of our community. We are the major supporter of Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Sea, Army and Air Cadets, as well support is given to YWCA Children’s Camp and Summer Playground, N.F. Summer Playground, Boys and Girls Club, Pee Wee Baseball and Hockey. The second most favoured recipient is our local hospital beginning in the 50s with an ice machine and continuing through the years with cash donations of $25,000 over a five-year period. Branch 51 has donated for such equipment as pre-natal monitors, endoscopy, cat scan, birthday beds and recently we furnished a palliative care room at GNGH.
Branch 51 is proud of our contribution to our country and our community we are not financed by any level of government and in fact have turned down the offer of financial assistance from government. We urge anyone that would like the pleasure of helping their community to consider Legion membership, the Legion have the facilities and structures that enable a member to make a difference in your community and your country.
I am sorry to say that I was unable to date this piece, but can tell you at the time of its writing the Legion was located on Valleyway. This was the only location I remember. I am also sorry to say that the building on Valleyway was sold. My Dad became a member in Port Dalhousie for his remaining years. However, there are still lots of healthy, thriving Legion Branches in the cities we all live in now. Like my Dad, I would encourage you to consider Legion membership and the opportunity to make a difference in your community.
Thank you Dad… for everything. I will remember.