“In the shock and isolation of adjustment (upon returning to Canada after the First World War) the veterans turned to soldiers’ clubs and regimental associations to recapture the camaraderie and sense of purpose they had known in the forces.”
From the book marking their Diamond Jubilee, this quote reveals in a few words the origin of the largest organisation in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion had its beginning in clubs and associations that probably first met to socialise and reminisce, but eventually began to concentrate on problems faced by veterans.
“At first the prime concerns were decent hospitals and proper treatment for the war-wounded,” reads the Diamond Jubilee book. “But soon longer-term issues came to the fore: pensions, war allowances, the care of the dependants of the dead and the disabled…and the federal legislation to govern all this.”
Early veteran’s groups were numerous, some dealing with specific war-related problems, while other associations were formed from military branches. The most prominent group was the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) which existed from 1917 to 1926. Mainly through the efforts of the GWVA the various veteran groups and associations were unified into one body. At a national conference in 1925 the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League was formed. A charter was granted by the secretary of state the following year, giving the Legion official status. Just over three decades later the Queen assented to the addition of “Royal” to the organisation’s name and it became the Royal Canadian Legion.
From a scattering of veteran groups, with no more than a few thousand members in 1921, the Legion today is now over 600,000 strong and has branches in most major population areas. In this newspaper’s circulation area, for example, there are branches in Kentville, Wolfville, Windsor, Hantsport, Berwick, Kingston, Middleton and on down the Valley.
From its inception the Legion has worked long and hard on behalf of veterans. An example of its efforts is the Department of Veterans Affairs, formed after the Legion convinced Ottawa that veterans’ interests would better be served by one special department.
However, while efforts on behalf of veterans continue, today’s Legion is also a major contributor to society in other areas. The ongoing efforts of the Kentville branch (Kings Branch #6) to raise and donate funds to worthy enterprises is a typical example of the good work the Legion does in similar communities across Canada.
In an average year the Kentville Legion contributes thousands of dollars in support of various organisations, charities, schools and individuals in need of assistance. Some $6,000 was distributed to Kings County schools as scholarships and bursaries this year, for example. The branch makes major donations to the V.O.N. ($11,000 in the past two years) sponsors the local Army Cadet band ($3,500 annually) and provided equipment valued at $20,000 to the Valley Regional Hospital. In the first six months of 1997 alone, 19 other charitable groups, clubs, schools and associations in the area received financial support from the Kentville branch.