With nearly 270,000 members at 1,400 branches across the country, the Royal Canadian Legion includes everyone from serving or retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP to regular civilians. What they share is a desire to support those who served Canada and a commitment to improving their communities.
“The legion is all about raising funds to support our veterans through things like the annual poppy campaign, dinners and other functions throughout the year,” said Brian Grewcutt, who served as president of Legion Branch 238 in Bowness for 2017-18. “We have about 20 vets among our 700 members – including one who just turned 100 – and we are here to ensure they’re looked after and get what they need.”
The branch is open on Fridays and Saturdays to non-members, who can participate in offerings like the seniors’ Christmas dinner and the Remembrance Day ceremony.
“We used to get about 200 people for the ceremony, but now we hold it at the community centre that seats about 500, and we pretty much fill it every year,” said Grewcutt.
During Stampede week, the branch hosts breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday, as well as nightly barbecues for the entire 10 days, all open to the public.
“Camaraderie is a big part of what we offer, as veterans can sit down and talk to others with similar backgrounds.” – Phil Macauley, Royal Canadian Legion branch 1 president
Volunteerism is a big part of legions, and the Bowness location is no exception.
“All our events are run solely with volunteers, and that includes our annual yard sale that raises funds for veterans,” said Grewcutt.
Since 1922, Legion Branch 1, which serves all of downtown Calgary, has been having a similar impact on its 400 members and surrounding community.
“Camaraderie is a big part of what we offer, as veterans can sit down and talk to others with similar backgrounds,” said Phil Macauley, president of the branch. “We bring in a service officer to help veterans fill out paperwork for accessing the poppy fund and getting walkers, wheelchairs, hearing aids or whatever they require.”
Non-members also benefit from the branch. It is made available at no cost to a variety of organizations, ranging from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to indigenous groups. “We have several people who help out on the poppy campaign, supplying stores and shopping centres with poppies and cans, and topping up the supply as needed over 10 days,” said Macauley.
Bridging the generational gap to reach younger Calgarians can be a challenge for legion branches, but that relationship is also evolving over time.
“We see younger people come in to hear a band on the weekend and chat with the vets,” said Grewcutt. “They get to know each other, and if the visitors like what they hear, they could be the next wave of legion members.”