CANADA’S LARGEST VETERANS ORGANIZATION
There are many veterans’ organizations in Canada but the largest by far is The Royal Canadian Legion with over 358,000 members and affiliates. The members belong to the following membership categories:
Ordinary (serving and retired military, RCMP personnel, provincial and municipal police forces);
Associate (direct relative of an ordinary member, cadet instructors, cadets, Navy League officers, firefighters); and
Affiliates (voting and non-voting friends of the Legion).
In addition, there are approximately 40,000 registered members of the Ladies Auxiliary who provide invaluable support to the Branches of the Legion and their fundraising activities. Serving members of the Canadian Forces may also join the “Military Member-At-Large” branch or a regular active branch.
The Legion is a non-profit, dues-supported, fraternal organization with approximately 1,500 branches in Canada, the United States, Germany and The Netherlands. The Legion receives no financial assistance from any outside agency and membership is open to all Canadian citizens and Commonwealth subjects who subscribe to the purposes and objects of the organization.
From the time of its formation in 1926, the Legion has focused its efforts on the fight to secure adequate pensions and other well-earned benefits for veterans and their dependants. Acting as an advocacy agency on veterans’ behalf, the Legion deals directly with the Federal Government to ensure ex-military personnel and their dependants are treated fairly.
The Royal Canadian Legion has also assumed a major responsibility for perpetuating the tradition of Remembrance in Canada. Each year the Legion organizes and runs the National Poppy Campaign to remind Canadians of the tremendous debt we owe to the 117,000 men and women who have given their lives in the defence of Canada during two world wars, the Korean War and other military missions around the world. Contributions made during the campaign are used to assist needy veterans, ex-service members and their families.
The Legion also supports programs for seniors, particularly through direct community-level activities, the Legion Long term care Surveyor Program and a Housing Program. The Legion’s Youth program provides scholarships and bursaries, sports programs and support to activities such as cadets, scouts and guides.
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By the end of World War 1 there were a total of 15 veterans’ groups and a number of regimental associations representing former service members in Canada. Despite their common goal – to help returned servicemen in need – their efforts were fragmented and largely unsuccessful. In1925, an appeal for unity led to the formation of the Dominion Veterans Alliance. The Legion was founded in November of that year in Winnipeg, Manitoba as The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League (BESL). It was incorporated by special Act of Parliament, Charter issued in July 1926.
The BESL was originally founded in 1921 with the same ideals and was a coalition of five nations’ veterans organizations – Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Today it is known as the Royal Commonwealth Ex-services League (RCEL) with 57 member organizations from 47 Commonwealth and former Commonwealth nations.
The principal objectives of the Legion were to provide a strong voice for World War I veterans and advise the government on veterans’ issues. These goals were maintained in the years leading up to 1939. The Legion quickly became a persuasive advocate for improved pension legislation and other benefits for veterans and their families, including: treatment and appeals procedures, returned soldiers’ insurance, and help for those suffering from tuberculosis.
Passage of the 1930 War Veterans’ Allowance Act was a major breakthrough, winning financial assistance for thousands of men who had not been eligible for disability pensions even though they had been incapacitated by war service.
THE LEGION PREPARES FOR SECOND WORLD WAR VETERANS
The Second World War brought an influx of new demands and the Legion increased efforts to help veterans and returned service members, provided education support, in-theatre comfort, canteens, entertainment and reading material for those serving abroad and at home, as well as correspondence courses to help them on their return to civilian life.
Most importantly, from the outset of war, the Legion began to prepare for the returning troops. Financial compensation, clothing allowances, pensions, medical treatment, preference in the civil service, vocational training, land settlements were all routinely arranged and provided. To this day the Legion maintains a nation-wide network of professionals helping veterans, ex-service members and their families to secure the pensions and benefits to which they are entitled.
ADJUSTING TO THE TIMES
On October 14, 1949, The Great War Veterans’ Association of Newfoundland amalgamated with the Canadian Legion of the BESL.
During the Korean War, the Legion again offered support and comfort to troops while continuing efforts at home to improve assistance for veterans. Following the Korean War, the Legion became increasingly involved in community service.
In 1960, the Queen gave consent to attach the word “Royal” to the Legion’s name.
A new Veterans Charter entitled The Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act implemented 1 April 2006 (C-45) has made the commitment more complex as claims will be adjudicated under both the old and new acts.
The Legion has never faltered in its efforts to improve the lot of veterans and of ex-service members. Indeed, many of the benefits they enjoy today are largely due to the persistence of dedicated Legion members at all levels of the organization. These include the Veterans Independence Program, spousal benefits, appropriate recognition for Dieppe and Hong Kong Veterans, creation of the Pension Review Board and many others.
THE LEGION IN THE COMMUNITY
Although the Legion was founded to advance the cause of veterans, its grass-roots structure led naturally to community service. The “Foster Fathers Program”, founded in the 1940s to help boys who had lost fathers in the war, stirred the imaginations of members who recognized the Legion’s enormous potential to serve Canada. The Legion launched many community programs, including the National Unity and Seniors Programs and medical fellowships to promote geriatric and gerontology specialties across the country.
Soon branches across the country were responding to needs in their communities – an ambulance here, a sports program there, and eventually large-scale provincial and national projects, such as housing for the elderly, and the national track and field program for young Canadians. The athletics program for youth, established in the early 1950s, has been one of the Legion’s most successful programs. It has produced many top Canadian international track and field contenders and other prominent athletes.
Today, with 360,000 members, The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest veterans-based community service organization in the country contributing millions of dollars and voluntary hours to help Canadians, particularly veterans, seniors and youth.
KEEPING THE MEMORY ALIVE
Most Canadians associate the Legion with Remembrance ceremonies and activities perpetuating the memory of those who died in the two world wars, the Korean War and other Canadian military missions, including peacekeeping. Probably the most widely known activity is the Annual Poppy Campaign in which Legion members and friends distribute Poppies for donations to raise money for needy veterans, ex-service members, and their families.
On Remembrance Day, November 11, the Legion also holds memorial services in communities across Canada. In Ottawa, the governor-general, prime minister, veterans and members of the military and the public attend the service at the National War Memorial. The ceremonies are replicated at thousands of locations across the country and use a two minute silence to remember the nation’s losses.
The Legion is a non-profit, self sustained organization with approximately 1,500 branches in Canada, the United Statesand Europe with over 358,000 members. As well as community service, comradeship, sports and social activities, Legion members receive Legion Magazine, one of Canada’s largest paid-circulation periodicals, devoted to veterans and seniors issues, Canadian war-time history and Legion affairs. There is also an excellent members’ benefit package which provides members with reduced costs for goods and services through cooperating companies.
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THE NEW MILLENNIUM
As the Legion moves into the 21st century, its members have rededicated themselves to ensure the care of Canada’s veterans and the perpetuation of Remembrance. The implementation of the “Two Minute Wave of Silence” in 1999, the establishment of “The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier” in 2000, and its advocacy for a Year of the Veteran in 2005 are examples of how the Legion is preparing Canadians to never forget the lessons and sacrifices of the past. Continued pressure on the federal government to improve benefits for those who serve and have served the country in uniform is the Legion’s other major cornerstone. And, as times change, so will the needs and the Legion’s work to ensure they are met.