New Branch Welcomed In Newfoundland
A new branch and, for the first time in a long time, an increase in membership gave delegates at the 61st Newfoundland and Labrador Command convention an extra spring in their step when they met at Pleasantville Branch in St. John’s, Aug. 15-19.
“The absolute highlight of the past two years has been the creation of a new Legion branch in Pasadena,” Newfoundland and Labrador Command President Dave Flannigan told delegates in his President’s Report. “Pasadena Branch is alive and well with an increasing membership and new accommodation. This branch is an absolute success story that continues to get better each day. November 2008 had a great day in the history of The Royal Canadian Legion in Newfoundland and Labrador as that was the day that Branch No. 68 officially received its charter.”
Flannigan went on to say that the command had received the Membership Achievement Award presented by Dominion Command for Best Overall Performance in 2008. In fact, it was the only command to report an increase in membership.
Still, the membership picture was not all rosy. “There have been a couple of sad days also,” said Flannigan. “We lost the branch in Grand Falls-Windsor which received its charter in 1954. It had been a successful branch until declining membership put a halt to their success and their members moved on (to other branches).” Grand Bank and Gambo branches also surrendered their charters since the last convention.
After a rainy morning, the skies cleared on Sunday for a parade and wreath-placing ceremony at host Pleasantville Branch. The branch is a former army mess built by the United States Army when it operated in the grounds.
Delegates marched from the branch past a few scattered memorials such as a howitzer gun and an airplane propeller to a cenotaph.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson placed a wreath on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada while Dominion President Wilf Edmond placed a wreath on behalf of Dominion Command.
Chairman Joe Kennedy said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t at least point out that this was the training grounds for the first contingent of the Newfoundland Regiment when it went overseas in the First World War.”
It was the first mention of the regiment that earned the title “Royal” and gallantly fought, but with such devastating consequences, at Beaumont Hamel during the First World War.
At the opening ceremonies City Counsellor Shannie Duff asked Thompson and provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Minister David Denine for some asphalt to help pave the road leading up to the cenotaph.
Denine and Thompson both spoke of visiting Beaumont Hamel. Flannigan praised Denine for having increased the budget for the province’s annual pilgrimage to France and Belgium so that participants can attend the ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres where members of the fire department halt traffic and play the Last Post every evening.
The serious tone of the speeches was broken up by a half hour of traditional Newfoundland songs and ribald humour performed by the White Sisters, who even forced Denine and other dignitaries to dance with them, to the delight of the crowd.
Once business began the next day, Honorary Treasurer Bill Titford was first on the floor with a point of privilege. He then read a letter to the delegation from First Vice Eugene Breen, explaining that he was not well enough to attend the convention or seek further office. A motion was quickly passed to send a card signed by all the delegates to Breen.
Without an incumbent first vice to succeed the president, elections seemed like a free-for-all. When Past President Calvin Crane called for first nominations there were two candidates for president, three candidates for first vice and three more candidates for second vice. Those who were unsuccessful in running for one office automatically dropped down to run for one of the vice-president positions, if they chose.
Kennedy had called for elections to start right away on Tuesday morning in case the voting went all day, but that did not prove the case.
First off was a challenge for president which was a contest between Titford of Cpl. Matthew Brazil Branch in Spaniard’s Bay, who had served as president of the command in 1987-89 and had served the last 14 years as honorary treasurer, and Second Vice Stephen Pottle of Stephenville Branch who had never served as first vice. When the vote was taken Crane announced that Pottle had won.
Titford declined to run for first vice, leaving it a three-way race between Aiden Crewe of Bonne Bay Branch in Woody Point, Doug McCarthy of the host Pleasantville Branch and Leslie Forward of Cpl. Matthew Brazil Memorial Branch. Crewe was declared the winner after only one ballot.
Forward and McCarthy both declined to run for second vice as did Max Peddle of Happy Valley Branch in Happy Valley/Goose Bay. That left it a two-way race between Jim Kennedy of Mount Pearl Branch and Ross Petten of Bay Roberts Branch. Petten was declared the winner.
Ian Walsh of Dr. William Collingwood Memorial Branch in Placentia was unopposed in taking over from Titford as honorary treasurer and Kennedy was acclaimed for another term as chairman.
Edmond spoke on the first day of business saying that the Legion has to speak up for the modern-day veteran. “I believe we are answering this call but we can’t seem to get the Afghanistan veteran to come and join The Royal Canadian Legion. We are the largest veterans organization and we are the ones who can take their concerns to the government,” he said.
He said that the Canadian Forces member serving in Afghanistan or elsewhere overseas is concerned about his or her family. “We are in a new age. The veteran doesn’t ask, ‘What can you do for me?’ but ‘What have you done for my family?’”
Edmond also called on the Legion branches to open their doors to the younger members of the Forces. “We don’t want to make the same mistakes as the First World War veterans did in not accepting the Second World War veterans, who in turn did not accept the Korean War veterans,” he said.
Resolutions Chairman Stephen Pottle announced that there were no non-concurred resolutions at this convention, but that did not stop the 74 delegates from debating and even defeating a few of the concurred resolutions.
Delegates did not agree to pass on the expenses to the branch of a district commander visiting a branch more than once in a year. They also disagreed with a resolution from Labrador which called on money raised through the very successful Ride for Youth motorcycle fundraising event to be used to support youth travelling to compete in any sport. The Ride for Youth was originally intended only to raise money for track and field and will remain so.
Not surprisingly, it was Beaumont Hamel which sparked the most emotional debate. Pottle explained that every year the province of Newfoundland and Labrador sponsors a pilgrimage to visit Beaumont Hamel and the four other sites where Caribou monuments recognize the sacrifice of Newfoundlanders during the First World War. Each year the government sponsors a select number of Second World War and Korean War veterans to make the trip, but as age is a factor, it is becoming more difficult to find veterans able to make the trip.
The resolution proposed that former Canadian Forces members could be chosen if they met a number of conditions. The resolution passed, but only after two amendments. One rejected the requirement that the veteran have a United Nations peacekeeping medal or a North Atlantic Treaty Organization decoration. The other lowered the minimum number of years service from five years to three years. To be eligible, the person has to be a Legion member in good standing and that the person’s military service must have started a minimum of 30 years before the pilgrimage.
That debate sparked another discussion that elected officers should not accept the province’s invitation to be part of the Beaumont Hamel delegation more than once. Kennedy ruled the discussion out of order, but the matter returned in new business. In the end, delegates recommended that representation on the trip should be shared by the senior elected officers.
Another resolution concerning delegates sent to Dominion Executive Council was debated to the point that it was withdrawn by Pottle and returned the next day after redrafting. It called on DEC to reverse some of the changes made at the 2008 dominion convention in Ottawa so that each command could send both its president and immediate past president to DEC, thereby insuring a continuity in representation.
Flannigan made a personal plea for that resolution telling delegates how much he depended on Past President Crane’s advice when he first got to DEC before the change had been implemented. Edmond disagreed with the proposal saying that delegates at dominion convention had passed the changes in DEC looking to save money and that it was too early to judge the success of those changes. Nonetheless, the motion passed with a sound majority.
Delegates also showed their generosity, raising $14,376 for the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League to support veterans and their dependants in the Caribbean.
Beaumont Hamel was raised once again when it came to the report on the 2009 Youth Leaders’ Pilgrimage of Remembrance. The designated delegate, Leslie Forward, had to cancel going on the trip owing to a death in the family. However District 4 Commander Ed Fewer was a paying participant and received a standing ovation telling delegates of his experiences visiting that spot so important to all Newfoundlanders.