You’re pinning on more than a poppy…

In a few weeks, white boxes with coin slots and poppies will show up all over Barrie.

Most of us will slip a loonie or a twonie into the coin slot and pin on a poppy, left hand side please, just over your heart. In fact, most of us will buy several of these. Something to do with seatbelts pulling them out. (or perhaps, dogs… see last week)

There’s much more behind the poppy than we give pause for. There’s much more behind the home of the poppy, the Royal Canadian Legion.

The Barrie Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion received its charter in 1929. Recognizing a need for veterans to connect and to get help after World War One, the “Legion” started above Robertson’s Drug Store at Dunlop & Owen. Barrie’s population was 7,911. Barrie’s town limits weren’t much past Wellington St.

After a bit, the Legion moved to a main floor location on Collier St, tucked between the Liquor Store on the west and the Firehall on the east. And there the Legion stayed until 1971 when the organization financed the building of a sophisticated, roomy facility on St. Vincent St and Cundles Rd. By then there were veterans of World War Two and Korea.

The Dr. W. C. Little Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has served this community well. If you’re not a member of the Legion, you likely think of a bar and bingo when you think of the Legion. But, let’s push that around a little bit. You may think there are few veterans left since World War Two and Korea seem so long ago.

Our Legion has Canadian veterans from service in Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt. Canadian veterans have families. And the Legion cares for the families of veterans, whether the vet is alive or not.

Royden Johnson, at age 72, is president of the Legion these days. And Dave Stubbs, at age 83, is the Poppy Trust Chair. The Barrie Legion is 77 years old this year. For all these years, members of the Legion have been raising money to help each other, to pay dental bills for a widow, to pick up the heating tab for another. It’s a big responsibility and it’s carried out with empathy.

The Legion is its most public during Remembrance Day Services every November 11. They organize the entire event, from getting permits at City Hall, to contacting St John Ambulance, to inviting vets and cadets and Base Borden personnel and lots and lots of wreaths. And poppies. They get the sound system; they print the programs; they fluff out the colours; they make sure they have a bugler and a pipe band and the City Concert Band.

Remembrance Day is certainly the Legion’s most noticeable time.

But, there is so much more. The Legion enjoys membership with veterans, with associates (who have a direct relationship to a veteran) and with affiliates who has no direct relation but are sympathetic to those in service. That swells the ranks to 900 for the Barrie centre. People join to honour a military member of the family.

“Anybody can join,” says Royden. And anybody can come for lunch on Wednesday or dinner on Friday. Hot roast beef sandwich with cauliflower soup $4. That’s the notice that announces Wednesday lunch this week!

Dave Stubbs points out that the Poppy Fund exists independently. The Barrie Legion will raise $110,000 in poppy sales this year, and will spend 90% of the net earnings on veterans and their families.

In fact, the Legion gives 90% of everything it raises (outside the Poppy Fund) to the community. Its members raise a lot of money… they rent four different rooms at the Legion, huge reception rooms for public or private events and celebrations and two board rooms for small groups. A transportation company has been doing staff training in the lower board room, at a reasonable rental costs. And of course the large rooms come with bar tenders and catering options, all fundraisers for the Legion. Royden said that one of Barrie’s many Red Hat Societies regularly rents the Provincial Room, and everybody benefits.

Raffles, bingos, receptions, meetings, a home away from home for some. This year the Dr. W.C. Little Branch expects to raise $325,000. And most of it will be given away.

Student bursaries, public speaking contests, poster and literary contests benefit from the Legion. Cadets… Navy League, Air, Sea, and Army Cadets often go on from their youth activities into full time armed forces personnel. “Some of our air cadet training corps are flying jets today,” said Royden.

The Legion will give generously to Royal Victoria Hospital, St John Ambulance, Christmas Cheer, the Food Bank as well as helping out with veterans’ pensions and care.

The Legion was an original sponsor of Barrie Minor Hockey; in fact BMHA started out as Barrie Legion Hockey. It’s been a long commitment.

Remembrance Week is completely funded by the Legion and its members visit nursing and retirement homes as well as area churches to conduct Remembrance Day Services.

They make a district contribution to a central fund for larger items. They provide bursaries for post secondary education for relatives of veterans.

So back to November 11. Remembrance Day. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when we shall pause and remember those who fought for democracy, for the freedoms we so enjoy. Each year there are fewer World War Two veterans in the ranks standing ramrod straight at the downtown Cenotaph. Fewer veterans, older, more feeble and standing after marching and marching after standing is too much. The Legion this year will make some changes to its program to enable its veterans to participate fully. There are 175 World War Two veterans still on the membership rolls of the Dr. W.C. Little Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

They will all be wearing poppies. On the left. Over the heart.

Thank you!