Delegates greeted each other warmly in the Atlantic sunshine at the 67th convention of Newfoundland and Labrador Command, from August 20-24 at the Pleasantville Branch in St. John’s.
On Aug. 21, delegates paraded to the Memorial Grounds Cenotaph. There, Command President Nathan Lehr recited the Act of Remembrance after which Lieutenant Governor Judy Foote placed the first wreath, followed by: Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother Patricia Turner-Petten; local, provincial and federal government officials; Lehr; Pleasantville Branch President John MacDonald and Dominion Chair Bill Chafe.
The convention was called to order on Aug. 22, with 61 delegates, one past president (another
two registered with branches), 11 Provincial Executive Council members, 16 proxies, eight observers and 28 branches present.
In his welcome, Lehr said the pandemic created many challenges, from restricting “branch operations, to acquiring emergency funding, to assisting branches.”
Berkley Lawrence, Interim Chair and a former president, updated the progress on the delayed Newfoundland National War Memorial restoration project. Lawrence announced, “after a meeting with the premier, [$500,000] was allotted.”
The highlight of the initiative, which will take place on July 1, 2024, is the re-interment of an unknown First World War soldier who died in northern France, to the refurbished memorial.
Provincial Treasurer, Ian Walsh, began his review of audited command finances with a poem. He said the command is in good financial health with a 2021 surplus of $53,000. The largest revenues came from “Fenety commemorative booklets, per capita tax, poppy for veteran services and the Dominion Command emergency funding.”
A motion was carried for the incoming treasurer to invest the $258,000 in the general account to receive more interest.
Delegates also carried the resolution to amend a provincial bylaw so branches can send two delegates for the first 100 voting members and one delegate for each additional 100 voting members to provincial conventions.
Sessions included: a presentation by Michael Pretty of Trail of the Caribou; Harold Jones of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) on its services; and Legion National Foundation Chair Dave Flannigan describing the many ways to give to the charity.
Members had concerns about the difficulty in getting VAC to respond to calls, vets being turned down for the Veterans Independence Program and more.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland Command Executive Director Paul Hillier reported he hopes to receive funding to resume the annual pilgrimage to Beaumont-Hamel in 2023. Also, no provincial track and field meet has been held since 2019—Hillier noted the need for an event coordinator. Still, delegates did donate more than $8,000 to the Sir Leonard Outerbridge fund that finances track and field.
Hillier also underlined the importance of the Poppy Manual, and said in 2021 “the total expenditures for benevolent assistance were $42,459.”
Provincial branches contribute 20 per cent of their poppy funds to a centralized trust administered by command. The funds support veterans who are either not members of a branch, want autonomy or members of a branch that lacks funds.
The next day Chafe spoke about the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, which received more than $27,000 in donations from delegates. He quoted from Dominion President Bruce Julian’s remarks after visiting veterans and widows in the Caribbean. “They were living in corrugated steel shacks that I as a farmer would not keep animals in…these comrades stood by our fathers and grandfathers when fighting.”
Membership Chair Shirley Hodder reported that, at the time of the convention, there were 3,571 members, 89 per cent of the 2021 total. She briefed delegates on the Veteran Family Welcome Program, which offers one year of free membership to parents, guardians, spouses and adult children of vets.
There were many questions on branch share of per capita, renewal stickers and categories of members. There were concerns that associates are undervalued. One commented: “I am very active in my Legion, but I am an associate member and more and more I am feeling like an inferior member.”
The district commanders all reported challenges throughout the pandemic, but most branches are open and membership is slowly returning. One branch in District 4 has closed, while three branches in District 3 are in danger of the same. Most districts reported struggling to raise the necessary funds to cover the cost of maintenance and renovations for older buildings.
For the first time, there was no need for executive elections. With only one name nominated for each position, the candidates were acclaimed. Gerald Budden of Conception Bay Branch in Kelligrews is the new president. Philip Wood of Bay Roberts Branch is first vice, Janis Boone of Botwood Branch is second vice, Shirley Hodder of Burin Branch is treasurer and Fred Maclean of Bonne Bay Branch in Woody Point is chair.
One promise the new executive made was to push for a change in an inconsistent liquor law that has affected branch bookings. The Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation requires that children leave anniversaries and family reunions by 9:00 p.m., but not for weddings.
On the last day, President Budden addressed the delegates.He said, “there is always debate on the classification of membership.” He recalled talking with a veteran who had both sides of his blazer covered with medals.
“I got all these medals for serving my country,” the veteran told Budden, “And [pointing to the other side] all these for serving the Legion. I am proud of them all.”
“You can be Dominion president as an associate member or veteran,” said Budden. “We are all members of the Legion.”