On a sunny summer day this past July, Ottawa’s quiet suburb of Kanata was momentarily roused as a huge pack of motorcyclists rumbled through it, leather-clad and looking for action.
These were the riders of the CAV—the Canadian Army Veterans motorcycle unit—and the action they were looking for was at Dominion Command, where they were going to show support for the new Legion Riders program due to be announced in a ceremony July 19.
While the CAV has been around for many years and has units right across Canada, the Legion Riders program is brand new and it hopes to latch on to some of the CAV’s success in recruiting younger veterans to participate in the organization.
“Many members of the Legion are also motorcycle enthusiasts,” said Dominion President Gordon Moore during the Legion Riders unveiling event, held in front of Legion House. “Until now this aspect of the Legion has not been addressed. I’m here today to say, based on popular demand, that we’re creating a motorcycle group to create awareness about the Legion, its community engagement across the country and its service to our serving and retired veterans, RCMP personnel and their families.”
The new program is open to any Legion member in good standing. “Owning a motorcycle is encouraged and I’m trying to talk my wife into letting me have one,” added Moore.
The Legion has designed a distinct logo for the Legion Rider to be used on leather jackets and other accessories. The Legion Riders units will be under the jurisdiction of the branch to which the majority of unit members belong and would strive to maintain the aims and objectives of The Royal Canadian Legion. Each member would own a motorcycle licensed and insured as required by provincial law. Members would be allowed to continue membership if they have given up motorcycle ownership because of age, illness, injury or other reasons as approved by the governing body.
“Motorcycles are a big part of our nation and they’ve always been a part of our military, performing dispatch roles and delivering messages,” said CAV founder Paul Cane. “The motorcycles of the people gathered here today deliver a message—today’s veteran can be seen on motorcycles, seen at events, they can be seen serving their country nationwide.
“Thanks to the hard work of Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion, you’re going to see the CAV and the Legion Riders doing amazing work across this country,” Cane added.
With the official announcement over, former dominion president and longtime motorcycle enthusiast Jack Frost was called up from the audience to don the first Legion Riders jacket. He was followed shortly after by Cane, UN/NATO Veterans Association of Canada honorary president Reno St. Germain and Dominion Secretary Brad White.
Among the CAV riders present for the announcement were veterans of many different conflicts and missions, all drawn together by their passion for motorcycling and their desire to help other veterans in need. One of the most venerable of the CAV riders was Bill Berry, an 82-year-old who’s been riding motorcycles since just after his days as a Bren gunner with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the Korean War.
As a longtime Legion member, Berry couldn’t be more supportive of the Legion Riders program, pointing out that sometimes former military members really just need to be in the company of their comrades, people they understand who also understand them.
“I think this is cool. It’s moving with the times,” said Berry. “The first time I went to the Legion was after the Korean War and this World War II veteran says, ‘This place is for veterans. You can’t come in here.’ So I gave him the Patricia salute (a punch!) and the good news is it took six of them to carry me out,” he laughed.
While the Legion is certainly now more inclusive of all kinds of veterans, the new Legion Riders program, it is hoped, will help attract them to the organization with the promise of camaraderie on a whole new level.
As for Berry and the question of how long he can keep riding a motorcycle, he has a simple answer. “Oh, until I fall off, I guess.” He pauses, and then adds with a smile: “Statistically, very few people die after age 100 you know.”