Year Highlighted By Passing The Torch Ceremony
The year marked the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and with one Canadian veteran remaining from that war, there was a special tribute at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa.
More than 25,000 attendees and four million TV viewers saw 108-year-old First World War veteran Jack Babcock pass the Torch of Remembrance to Second World War veteran George Dunlop with his wish to “Hold it high.” Dunlop passed the torch to Korean War veteran Al Tobio who passed it to United Nations peacekeeping veteran James Robert O’Brien. Sergeant Randy Kierstead of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, representing today’s veterans, was then passed the torch, deposited it in a stand and stood guard until the ceremony ended.
A simple act of remembrance highlighted the year that saw the Legion adopt a new form of governance and elect a new dominion president.
At the dominion convention in Ottawa in June, the members acclaimed Wilfred Edmond from Donkin, N.S., as the new dominion president and elected Patricia Varga from Coleville, Sask., as the first vice-president. Vice-presidents elected were incumbent Erl Kish of Ontario Command and newcomers Paulette Cook from Quebec Command and Gord Moore from Ontario Command. Michael Cook of British Columbia/Yukon Command and Tom Irvine of Quebec Command were returned as treasurer and chairman respectively. There were 159 resolutions considered, but as the reduction of vice-presidents by one would show, it was a different Legion leadership that was coming into view.
Earlier, votes were taken on the composition of the Dominion Executive Council (DEC). Steve Wessel of Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command chaired a Commission on Governance, Represent-ation and Command Structure which recommended three resolutions to convention. The results saw the DEC downsized to one representative per command, the reduction of vice-presidents to three and the abolition of the sub-executive committee.
The convention’s special guest was Prince Floris of Orange-Nassau, van Vollenhoven who was promoted to be a life-time honorary dominion vice-president. The Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service was also presented to the Legion by retiring Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier. Legion dress also changed, but before and after the dominion convention, the committees continued their work.
The Poppy and Remembrance Committee under Dominion Vice-President Varga, and post-convention chairmanship of Dominion Vice-President Moore, maintained the goal of promoting Remembrance to youth by working with children’s authors and endorsing three of their books.
The annual literary and poster contest saw more than 100,000 student participants as the committee included brochures on the contest in the educational material sent by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to every school and Legion branch in Canada.
The national senior category winners travelled to Ottawa to participate in the National Remembrance Day Ceremony and placed a wreath on behalf of the Youth of Canada.
The Legion welcomed the Outstanding Cadets of the Year who served as wreath bearers for the viceregal party.
The National Silver Cross Mother for 2008-2009, introduced at a commemorative ceremony at the National Memorial Centre at Beachwood Cemetery on Nov. 7, is Avril Stachnik of Waskatenau, Alta. She is the mother of army Sergeant Shane Hank Stachnik who was killed in Afghanistan. She placed a wreath at the national ceremony on behalf of all mothers in Canada who have lost children in wars and conflicts.
The committee oversaw the development of a new five-year contract for poppies and wreaths and a “no price increase” was negotiated, with some of the poppy promotional material even registering a price decrease.
National corporations supported the campaign by having poppies distributed through their outlets including Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart, Home Hardware and Bulk Barn. Air Canada displayed an enlarged poppy decal on 30 aircraft and Telus Corporation ensured that every one of its employees wore a poppy during the period.
The committee also recognized that the first poppy should be presented to the Governor General of Canada and Section 1101 of the General By-Laws was amended to reflect this. The committee felt that early notice was important to enable provincial commands to arrange a date for their own launches.
It considered 93 requests for the use of the poppy image and 18 special use expenditures for Poppy Trust Funds. A proposal to provide emergency assistance to dependants of currently serving military personnel from the Poppy Trust Fund was approved by the pre-convention Sub-Executive and endorsed by the DEC. Also, up to $18 per meal may now be authorized from Poppy Trust Funds to cover the cost of providing food to a veteran during an annual branch visit.
The committee developed a program where branch volunteers would visit all veterans and seniors in community-care facilities during the annual poppy campaign to provide each resident with a poppy sticker. Branches were encouraged to conduct a one-day distribution on the first Sunday of the campaign.
The committee worked with the Royal Canadian Mint to develop a poppy quarter in recognition of the 90th anniversary of the Armistice, a commemorative poppy bookmark, a collector coin set and a high relief poppy silver dollar.
The committee provided $16,000 in funding to support Legion scholarships and continued to be involved with the Veterans Affairs Canada’s Cenotaph/ Monument Restoration program. Some communities chose to recognize local fallen veterans by naming streets in their honour. Approvals were granted to Toronto and Orangeville, Ont., Vancouver and Mayerthorpe, Alta., to use the poppy image on their street signs.
Canada’s Quilt of Remembrance was presented to the Legion during the remembrance period. JN Harper Inc. of Montreal, a material and pattern supplier, will donate a portion of the price of material sold by them to the Dominion Command Poppy Trust Fund.
The two Canadian Football League Division semi-final games in Winnipeg and Regina on Nov. 8 incorporated a veterans tribute with national TV coverage provided by TSN.
Encounters With Canada conducted their Canada Remembers theme week from Nov. 10-14 with 140 youth from across Canada participating. The committee secretary spoke on the significance of the poppy and presented each student with a Poppy Puppy.
The committee strengthened communications as each member established a liaison with two provincial command poppy chairmen, which encouraged a continual exchange of information. The Dominion Command Colour Party continued to represent the Legion at national events and took on other projects, including training seminars with Ottawa- area branches and ladies auxiliaries, and a developmental program for a tri-element cadet colour party.
The Legion’s Service Bureau provided representation services to clients who sought benefits under the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and the Pension Act. It handled requests for benevolent assistance and its service officers presented appeals and reconsiderations during two week-long blitzes to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) at Legion House and attended VRAB meetings in other locations.
The Legion proposed, through the NVC Advisory Group (NVCAG), changes or modifications so that NVC programs continued to meet recipients’ needs. Dominion President Edmond attended the NVCAG meetings in Ottawa and Toronto where the Legion expressed its strong support of the NVC.
Former Dominion President and Veterans, Service and Seniors (VSS) Committee Chairman Jack Frost, accompanied by the newly elected dominion president, consulted with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and senior VAC officials. In two separate meetings they discussed the Legion’s concerns with the failure of VAC to act on the recommendations of a Gerontological Advisory Council (GAC) report.
As a result of inaction, the Legion withdrew from the GAC. In December the new dominion president, now the VSS chairman, again met with the minister to continue to press for Veterans Independence Program benefits for frail and allied veterans and for improvements to disability benefits under the NVC.
Dominion Vice-President Kish appeared at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to advocate for urgent legislation to resolve the issue of “lost Canadians.”
Earlier, Frost made an appearance at the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs to discuss how the Legion would have preferred an ombudsman with legislated powers, to provide details on the new VAC partial hearing loss policy, to clarify the interrelationships between various elements of the NVC and to advocate for improved delivery of mental health services. He also appeared at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to confirm Legion support for a National Peacekeepers’ Day.
In November, command service officers attended a three-day session in Charlottetown and received updates on VAC policies and shared best practices.
The Long Term Care Surveyor program, a joint partnership between VAC and the Legion, saw trained Legion volunteers visit facilities across Canada to ensure that the 10,000 veterans in them are being treated with dignity and receiving proper care.
Legion housing consultant David MacDonald continued to provide valuable assistance and advice. The $4.4 million Dr. F.M. Walker Veterans and Seniors Villa in Alliston, Ont., a joint Legion branch and Legion Housing Centre for Excellence project, received a CMHC Housing Award for Best Practices in Affordable Housing.
The Membership Committee, under the leadership of Dominion Vice-President Kish and later Dominion Vice-President Cook, was also busy during the year. A branch membership gift package was designed as a pilot project to attract new members. It included a blank gift certificate, other promotional items and was made available to the branches free of charge.
In an attempt to attract serving military people while focusing on the Legion’s role in serving all veterans, The Royal Canadian Legion and the Canadian Forces brochure was redesigned and made available through supply. A new recruitment poster was also designed entitled Join The Legion, Make A Difference.
The committee continued to advertise for military members and others. One of the newest members is First World War veteran Babcock. The DEC voted unanimously to honour him and he was presented with an honorary life membership by Edmond at his home in Spokane, Wash.
Negotiations with the Department of National Defence saw newly retired CF members being offered a one-year free membership in the Legion as part of the Departing with Dignity program.
The committee was also saving money and reducing mailing costs as the membership monthly statistical reports were made available online at www.legion.ca to copy and print as required.
The committee conducted an online survey to find out how members had heard about the Legion. Responses were few and inconclusive. It was later decided that another survey would be mailed to new members who joined the Legion in 2008.
While the Membership Committee was looking at new ways to get members, the Public Relations Committee was looking at ways to support them and other committees. The PR Plan for 2008 to 2010, adopted under the chairmanship of former Dominion Vice-President Cliff Tessier, was reviewed by a new PR committee chaired by Dominion Vice-President Kish. Reacting to a call from the DEC, the committee came up with a separate plan called the “We Support Our Troops Campaign.”
Support for CF Sports Championships was upgraded from 11 to 16 individual competitions, but a plan to send a gift to our deployed troops on Canada Day was deemed too expensive. The changes to plans and budgets saw the development of a new PR Plan for the year 2009.
A national survey was run on the Legion’s recognizability in Canada and the results were good. Many people, however, still believe that the Legion is government-funded. The public service announcement program centered on radio only for 2008 while new TV ads were being produced, and the preparation of special occasion speeches for all Legionnaires continued.
The Communications Department developed PR plans, created catalogues for supply, processed firstname.lastname@example.org e-mails, designed posters, brochures and pamphlets and designed a new website that incorporates all functions at the command, and a new local area network (LAN) was installed based on Microsoft technology.
The RCL Troop Morale Fund that ensures Canadian troops deployed to Afghanistan get a free coffee and a doughnut every two weeks, run strictly on donations, saw 84,000 stamped certificates (worth US$168,000) delivered to our troops in 2008.
Dominion convention also set a record in donation pledges to the Dominion Command Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL) fund of $312,940. These funds help needy veterans in the Caribbean region. The new dominion president now chairs the committee that helped more than 345 veterans and widows in the region. Committee members also attended the RCEL triennial conference in Accra, Ghana.
The Legion’s Defence Committee chaired by Lou Cuppens continued to monitor developments in regard to the NVC as well as other developments, including the military’s vision for the future, its role in Afghanistan and the proper recognition of service. The treatment of post deployed reservists’ and the injured became a focal point for the committee with research on the problem areas, and advocacy forming the bulk of their efforts.
Legion sports are also close to people’s hearts. The pre-convention committee was chaired by former Dominion Vice-President John Alger and post-convention it was chaired by Dominion First Vice-President Varga.
Cribbage, hosted by Grand Bend, Ont., Branch saw James Kay of Port Coquitlam, B.C., Branch become the singles winner, while Barry and Margaret Heaver of Pilot Mound, Man., Branch won the doubles title and team honours went to George Pearkes VC Branch in Summerside, P.E.I.
Darts championships were hosted by West Kildonan Branch in Winnipeg and Gerald Hull of LaSalle, Que., Branch took the singles title while the doubles were won by Paul Osmond and Glen Carter of Channel Branch in Port-aux-Basques, Nfld., and the team title was taken by Beachville, Ont., Branch.
The national curling championships were hosted by Dauphin, Man., Branch and Nutana Branch in Saskatoon won.
The Legion National Track and Field Championships took place in August at the University of Sherbrooke, Que. The Canadian youth open category, introduced as a trial, saw the addition of 244 more athletes to the competition. For Legion athletes, the program continued to include an athletes’ clinic conducted by Athletics Canada, practice sessions, social activities and the actual meet.
Quebec Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne was the official guest speaker at the opening ceremony. The closing banquet saw the dominion president, the guest speaker, present Comrade LeRoy Washburn with the Legion Meritorious Service Medal for his long and dedicated service to track and field. The retiring head chaperones, Carol and Henderson Paris, were recognized for more than 20 years of volunteer service.
The meet was conducted under perfect weather conditions, in a state-of- the-art facility under the supervision of meet director Daniel Quirion. During the competition, four Canadian youth and 10 Legion records were broken with one Legion record tied, all but one achieved by Legion athletes.
The Ritual and Awards Committee chaired by George O’Dair presented two resolutions at the convention—one on wearing military headdress complete with a military cap badge with Legion dress, and the other on wearing a military unit blazer badge on the lower right pocket of the Legion blazer. Both passed.
Of particular interest to the members was a ruling on the “dipping of flags” during ceremonies. After a dominion convention ruling regarding the National Flag of Canada, and to provide clarity, the committee proposed to the DEC that all flags, colours and banners should be displayed in the same fashion as the National Flag of Canada and that no dipping should be allowed with the exception of the Legion banner at remembrance ceremonies. This was approved and now the banner will only be dipped during the playing of the Last Post.
The committee continued to meet monthly to process applications for awards and had a zero backlog of applications after last year’s submissions were reviewed. In 2008 the committee approved 29 Palm Leaves to the Meritorious Service Medal, six Palm Leaves to the Meritorious Service Award, 76 MSMs, nine MSAs, seven Media Awards and 16 Friendship Awards.
The Supply Department also handled over 25,000 shipments, including a big one. The department obtained and distributed 3,000 folding lawn chairs to troops in Afghanistan as part of the overall We Support Our Troops program. The idea was suggested to Dominion Chairman Irvine by Canadian soldiers during his visit to Afghanistan.
Response to new supply items was also exceptional, in particular the commemorative Armistice pins which sold out one week before Remembrance Day. Commemorative Juno Beach and D-Day items were developed by the department for introduction in 2009 and will first be shown in a supplemental catalogue.
Poppy and wreath order fulfillment also proceeded well but the fall federal election left little time to rush orders to newly elected, and incumbent, members of Parliament.
Administrative items such as membership processing forms, information brochures, and references to Member Benefits Partners were also added to the annual catalogue with a positive response.
In essence, it was a year of much activity at Dominion Command by committees and departments.