Unexpectedly clear blue skies greeted delegates at the 65th Newfoundland and Labrador Command Convention in Stephenville on Aug. 26-30.
Proceedings got underway on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a parade from Blanche Brooke Park to the cenotaph. A remembrance ceremony followed, with wreaths placed by Lieutenant-Governor Frank Fagan, Silver Cross Mother Agnes Gillam Bishop, member of Parliament Gudie Hutchings, provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment Eddie Joyce, Newfoundland and Labrador Command President Frank Sullivan, Dominion First Vice Tom Irvine and other officials.
The convention took place at Stephenville Branch, formerly the officers’ mess of Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, which the United States Air Force operated here from 1941 to 1966.
In the opening ceremony, Fagan expressed gratitude on behalf of all Canadians: “Thank you very much for the work you do on behalf of our veterans and for our veterans, and the work you do in remembrance programs to remember those who have gone and who have sacrificed.”
Business started on Monday with a credentials report, counting 59 delegates, 13 provincial executive council (PEC) members, three past presidents and 16 proxies, for a total of 91 potential votes. Thirty-three of the province’s 46 branches attended, representing 3,944 members.
In his president’s report, Sullivan noted that he was going to focus on two incidents that occurred during his tenure which were not included in his written report. First was a proposal by retired general Rick Hillier and The Rooms CEO Dean Brinton to repatriate soil from the Beaumont-Hamel battlefield to be placed in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery at The Rooms museum in St. John’s. The PEC was “unanimously opposed,” Sullivan said. “They were bringing back soil which probably had human DNA in it, putting it into The Rooms, where they charge $10 to enter. Basically, they were commercializing human DNA.” Following an intense exchange of letters and phone calls, Sullivan reported, the proposal was dropped. “But I guarantee you,” he said, “it’s going to come up again.”
The second incident occurred in France during the ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the Newfoundland Regiment’s role at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. “It was a disgrace, to say the very least,” Sullivan said. “The Newfoundland government contingent wasn’t even recognized. The minister wasn’t afforded an opportunity to speak. There were hundreds of Newfoundlanders there who were insulted.” Sullivan said he sent a letter to Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr, asking for a working group to be formed “for making decisions dealing with our memorial park at Beaumont-Hamel.” The proposal was accepted by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), as was a template for future commemoration ceremonies modelled on those held annually in St. John’s.
In his Dominion Command report, Irvine highlighted the demographic challenge facing the Legion. “Close to 80 per cent of our members are 55 and older,” he said, “We have to do something about this. And we are.” He then outlined several initiatives aimed at strengthening Legion membership: marketing efforts targeting younger veterans, currently serving military and RCMP members, and their families; revamping the membership-renewal process through a new online portal; switching from paper to plastic membership cards with renewal stickers; expanding e-mail communications with members; and stressing the importance of positive customer service in the branches.
Treasurer Ian Walsh reported that in 2016, provincial command had revenues of $353,818 and expenditures of $313,831, leaving an excess of $39,987, the highest in the past four years. The provincial Poppy Trust Fund had revenues of $135,475 and expenditures of $104,890, leaving an excess of $30,585, again the highest in the past four years.
Three concurred resolutions were voted on, the most significant being an increase in the provincial per-capita tax portion of annual membership from $12.10 to $14, effective in 2018. This was the first provincial rate change since 1997.
Three guest speakers made presentations to the delegates. Lee Marshall, VAC’s area director for Newfoundland and Labrador, outlined recent changes to benefits and programs. George Borgal, chair of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust’s Battle of the Atlantic Place project, sought moral support from the Legion for the construction of a museum and memorial on the Halifax waterfront that will serve as a home for HMCS Sackville and a testament to Canada’s pivotal role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Sarah Lawrence, a provincial command-sponsored pilgrim, gave a moving photo presentation of the 2017 Pilgrimage of Remembrance to battlefields, memorials and cemeteries in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Irvine and Dave Flannigan, provincial past president and current Dominion president, both spoke with passion about the Legion’s work for the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL), which supports 108 veterans and 87 widows in the Caribbean, including Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana. Following the presentation, delegates donated and pledged $37,450 in funding to the RCEL.
Reporting on the province’s youth track and field program, co-ordinator Barry Furlong introduced three athletes recently returned from the national meet in Brandon, Man. Holly Brochu, Denver McConnell and Nick Butt described their experiences, then delegates opened their wallets again to donate and pledge $13,588 to the track program.
Provincial executive council and district elections were chaired by past president Ross Petten. First Vice Berkley Lawrence of Carbonear Branch was acclaimed president and Ian Walsh of Dr. William Collingwood Memorial Branch in Placentia was acclaimed treasurer for another term.
In the race for first vice, David Johnson of Stephenville Branch defeated Ron Earl of Labrador City Branch.
It took three ballots to elect a second vice, with Nathan Lehr of Pasadena Branch prevailing over Ed Fewer of Grand Falls Branch, Nelson Granter of Eastport Branch and Shirley Hodder of Burin Branch. Granter then ran for provincial chair alongside past president Aiden Crewe of Bonne Bay Branch and Lesley Forward of Cpl. Matthew Brazil Memorial Branch in Spaniard’s Bay, with Crewe elected on the second ballot.
Newly installed President Berkley Lawrence ended the convention with a challenge to delegates: “We need to let our communities know what the benefits of being a member of the Legion are all about and what work the Legion does. Not only in your community, but in Canada and in the Caribbean—the more people know about what we do, the more likely they are to come and join us.”