REMEMBRANCE DAY: Legion continues to serve members

NANAIMO: The Royal Canadian Legion’s mission has not changed since it was formed in the 1920s.

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 257 president Roy Cardinal

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 257 president Roy Cardinal

The Royal Canadian Legion’s mission – to serve veterans and their families and promote remembrance – has not changed since it was formed in the 1920s.

What has changed is the membership demographics.

There is a shrinking number of veterans and the majority of members are no longer ex-military personnel, said Andrew Farrow, president of Branch 10 Legion in Harewood.

“A good portion are just from the community at large, who support the mandate of the legion,” he said.

About 10 per cent of the Harewood legion’s 500-or-so members are veterans, said Farrow, and the rest are either family members of veterans, who qualify for an associate membership, or affiliate members, which means they do not have a tie to the military themselves, but support it.

He said the average age of members is 55-years-old, which is a concern from a succession standpoint, and the legion is always recruiting new members.

“We’ve really tried to focus on community engagement and encouraging people to come in and have fun,” said Farrow. “We’re trying not to make it the legion of the old.”

To that end, on top of organizing annual Remembrance Day activities and the poppy campaign, the Harewood legion hosts numerous social activities each week from meat draws, darts and pool tournaments to music and providing members a place to watch the game together.

Farrow said the legion is also on the hunt for new members who want to help out.

“It’s a small percentage of the people doing the bulk of the work,” he said.

Joseph Briand, president of Branch 256, estimates that about 65 per cent of the legion’s 450 members are veterans.

Overall numbers are diminishing, he said.

When Briand joined eight years ago, there were more than 600 members and at its peak Branch 256 had about 1,200 members.

“There’s not too many conflicts that Canada gets into,” he said. “A lot of our veterans have been dying off because they’re in their 80s and 90s now. Unless we have another major conflict, that’s the way it is.”

Briand said the average age of members is around 65 and the legion looks for new members by advertising in the newspaper, amongst other things.

Besides helping veterans, the legion also offers a place for them to socialize with one another, he added.