Dave Whittier, executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion BC-Yukon

REMEMBRANCE DAY

B.C. Legions in need of young members to continue aiding veterans into the future

Lest we forget what thousands of men and women did to fight for Canada’s freedoms – but without new membership, many Legion chapters face dwindling numbers

As Canadians honour the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the association that’s supported returning veterans for nearly as long is also reflecting on its efforts as cornerstones in communities across B.C.

But with not a single World War I veteran still alive today, an aging population is causing some concern that without new members, the Royal Canadian Legion’s ability to help returning soldiers could be in question.

Dave Whittier, who was the commanding officer in the Canadian Armed Forces’ 39 Signal Regiment, told Black Press Media the Royal Canadian Legion’s B.C.-Yukon Command has changed over the years in two ways: its size and members.

At its peak, the Legion was 600,00-strong across the country. Today, that number stands closer to 250,000 with about 45,000 in B.C., Whittier said

About half of those members are aged 65 years old or over.

“There was a time when the Legion was a veterans’ organization and it was from World War I and World War II veterans,” Whittier said. “That has changed over time and we are a veterans’ service organization now that actually welcomes anyone who wants to join the Legion – who believes in what we are doing and wants to be part of that – to step up and help out.”

Primarily funded through the annual poppy campaign, the Legion supports veterans and their families through financial assistance, disability claims, helping access counselling services and supports for those who have more recently served overseas adjust back to everyday life.

Roughly $2.5 million is raised across the province each year.

At the heart of dwindling numbers is a fear that veterans in need will suffer in silence and that integral pieces of history will be lost.

“It’s very much a concern for us,” Whittier said. The provincial headquarters has been offering business-related guidance to local branches to ensure funds are being used adequately to keep the brick and mortar locales running.

But despite decreasing support, Whittier said he’s been struck by how volunteers care so greatly for this country’s veterans.

“We really need to not only stand on the mountain top and shout out that message but make sure that other people have the opportunity to be apart of it,” he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering, becoming a member – or even spending some time with veterans in their community – don’t have to do much more than walk through their Legion’s doors.

“They get to be a part of the continuity of history, and to come into a branch and sit down with folks… really what we’re trying to provide to the veterans is a family they can be apart of and be welcome at. Bringing the young folks in, I think that extra level of excitement, energy and enthusiasm would go a long way in helping to maintain that.”

And in turn, you might get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of hearing a bit of history never shared before.

“It’s important to know we have no more World War I veterans left, so if their stories haven’t been captured they are gone to us now,” Whittier said. “For some of the big moments in our history we are starting to lose those stories so it’s more important now than ever before to be able to reach out to these folks, understand what they went through, capture those stories so we can make sure we don’t go to the same place again.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

A group of Abbotsford secondary principals’s and vice-principals are at a retreat in Whistler this weekend. (Whistler.com photo)
Abbotsford principals attending retreat in Whistler despite COVID-19 gathering restrictions

Unclear how reported group of 20 will be following COVID-19 protocols during Whistler Pro-D event

The family of Anika Janz, who died after collapsing at school, has launched a GoFundMe to assist with funeral proceedings. (GoFundMe photo)
Family of Abbotsford student who died launches GoFundMe

Rick Hansen Secondary School student Anika Janz, 14, died after collapsing in PE class

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Fraser South region has doubled in the last two weeks. The number of cases in the Fraser East region has tripled.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
COVID-19 surge in B.C. fuelled by spikes in new cases in Fraser Valley & Surrey area

Number of newly confirmed cases has tripled in Fraser Valley and doubled in the Surrey/Langley area

John Redekop, with wife Doris, was the 2019 recipient of the Betty Urquhart Community Service Award from UFV. (Photo courtesy of UFV)
Nominations open until Oct. 30 for UFV’s Betty Urquhart Awards

Award recognizes ‘significant impact’ of volunteer work by an individual or group

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Most Read