Legion changing as veteran base declines

The face of the Royal Canadian Legion is changing.

The 902 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron has received support from the Summerland Legion. Pictured with cadets are Bob Wolleswinkel

The 902 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron has received support from the Summerland Legion. Pictured with cadets are Bob Wolleswinkel

The face of the Royal Canadian Legion is changing.

The national organization was formed shortly after the First World War in order to give veterans a place where they could share their experiences.

Over the years it has expanded to looking after veterans, promoting remembrance and supporting communities.

With the veteran base rapidly declining every year, the Summerland Branch has taken a pro-active approach to recruiting new members.

The executive committee has worked hard to keep things up and running and the branch’s president Mike Brazeau said that things are going “extremely well.”

“Right now we are increasing our membership. Our members are getting younger,” he explained. “We are getting the 30- and 40-year-old people and we are looking forward to getting younger ones as time goes on.”

The Summerland Branch currently has 680 members, 140 of whom are veterans. Approximately 40 of those veterans are living in Summerland but only six or seven of them visit the legion regularly.

At one time a person wishing to join the Legion must have served in the military or come from a military family. That has now changed.

“We are now accepting any persons who wish to join the Legion, that have an understanding of what the Legion is about and who wish to support the veterans,” explained Brazeau.

A veteran himself, having served in the military for forty years, Brazeau firmly believes in the support of veterans and has an understanding of what they have gone through and what their needs are.

“We are trying to bring forward the idea that we have modern day veterans,” he said.

Brazeau explained that since the Korean War, there have been various peace keeping missions and those who have served are running into issues. Some who have returned are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which Brazeau likened to something called shell shock after the Second World War.

“Back in the First and Second World Wars people were ashamed to come forward saying they had issues. They were supposed to be the tough soldiers,” Brazeau said. “It was there before, it was just never diagnosed. Now it’s out in the open and it is not considered a black mark anymore.”

The Summerland branch has a Service Officer on the executive who is able to assist any veteran suffering from PTSD with the referral process in order to get them the help needed.

Along with promoting the Legion as a very friendly welcoming place, the Summerland branch is also trying to get rid of an age old stigma. A sign outside the building reads, “We’re more than just beer.”

“There still is this idea in peoples’ minds that it is just a bunch of old guys sitting at the bar telling war stories,” Brazeau said. “I’m telling you that is not the case.”

A few months ago the branch started serving lunch and supper from its newly renovated, state of the art kitchen. Brazeau said the response has been good and they are looking into expanding their hours of operation.

Over the last year the branch has donated over $15,000 to various organizations in the community. The money is raised largely through gaming funds as the branch has poker and pull-tab machines and a keno machine.

The money that is raised during the November poppy campaign is used strictly for the support of veterans. At Christmas time each veteran in Summerland receives a comfort gift, such as a sweater, toque or blanket.

The Summerland Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is successful and actively recruiting new members.

The executive works well together and has fun together as well.

They approach the membership for ideas and suggestions, trying to include everyone.

“In this branch we are trying to make it welcoming and open,” Brazeau said. “The members here are a good bunch of people, a very friendly, welcoming group. It’s a good place for people to come and sit down and chat. We maintain a high standard of decorum…we treat people with respect and dignity here.”