In researching the Quesnel Observer archived newspapers from the Quesnel Museum, it was remarkable the number of references to activities and events held at the Quesnel Legion Branch 94. From memorial teas, Guides and Scouts activities, donations to other community projects and organizations and a host of other mentions including many services and activities for local veterans, the Legion has been a hub for Quesnel since its beginnings in 1927.
At the end of the First World War an organization titled the Great War Veterans Association (GWV) was formed in Great Britain in hopes of helping returning veterans physically, mentally and monetarily.
In Canada, similar organizations formed. There is evidence that a veterans’ association was active in Quesnel as early as 1919, the president’s roster lists E.J. Gook as president from 1919 to 1929 and again in 1930 and 1931.
As the needs and scope of veterans became more widely understood, in 1925 the GWV became the British Empire Service League (BESL) and all Canadian veteran branches became the Canadian Legion of the BESL.
As in Quesnel in 1927, Legion branches were established across the country with even the smallest hamlets providing social, physical, mental and monitory assistance to local veterans.
The first Legion Hall was built in Quesnel in the 1930s.
The Legion Hall was well used by not only Legion members but the community as a whole. At one time it was considered an annex to the Helen Dixon School and Tom Moffat, long time legion member and decorated veteran, remembers being marched across the road from the school to take physical education classes in the hall.
Soon the hall was known, not only for its youth activities, but also many and varied adult activities such as special dances, parties and celebrations.
In many such organizations, the wives, daughters, sisters and other female family members were looking for where they could help and Quesnel was no different. In October 1938, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Royal Canadian Legion held an organizational meeting and a branch was formed. Charter members included Mrs. Hilborn, Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Collver, Mrs. Parsons, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Bradshaw, Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Bergersen, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Archibald, Mrs. Ohms, Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Brereton. It was certainly a sign of the times that these women were referred to by their married last names.
Legion Ladies Auxiliaries were formed primarily to help raise funds to support the Legion through teas, whist drives, dances and catering and as fast as the money was brought in, it was used to support the hospital, charities, special requests, the Legion and parcels overseas.
Fundraising has always been important to the members of the Quesnel Legion and in 1972 they started fundraising for the building of Dunrovin Seniors’ Home.
This vital seniors complex is still very important in the community especially with the addition of a Hopsice unit.
In August 1995, the community suffered a devastating loss when the Legion building burned to the ground.
Reports at the time of the fire recorded the community’s sorrow and shock at the loss.
Not only did they lose their hall but most of the priceless, irreplaceable artifacts and records were also lost including the pipe band equipment. A very old drum originally from Scotland was also lost in the fire as was
Tom Moffat’s Second World War air force uniform.
Local artist and community leader Bill Speare watched as flames engulfed the structure and he knew the mural of Cariboo life he spent four months painting on the wall of the lounge was going up in smoke.
Fire chief Dale Carlson said 24 firefighters from the Bouchie Lake, West Fraser and Barlow Creek fire departments were called in to help the city’s 22 firefighters already on scene, however it was a fire they couldn’t beat.
He took comfort in the fact no other buildings were lost and no one was injured.
Legion president Tom Gurnell vowed they would immediately rebuild the Legion on the same site and that is exactly what happened.
Various community organizations stepped up to offer temporary facilities for Legion activities including Billy Barker Days Society, who offered their offices for administrative purposes and St. Ann’s kindly provided their hall for general meetings and Remembrance Services until the new Legion hall was ready.
Quesnel Legion Branch 94 is part of the Royal Canadian Legion/BC Yukon Command, a non-profit organization consisting of 149 branches, 80 ladies auxiliaries and nearly 55,000 members.
The Legion is one of the foremost and most respected community service organizations in Canada, serving veterans, ex-service personnel, seniors, youth and many aspects of community life.
The Legion is guided by three pillars: remembering which allows members to reflect and honour long-term veterans and their families and to support a new generation of veterans; joining is all about membership and volunteering – the Legion is where belonging matters and where you can make a real difference with your time and talent; giving means saying thank you and I care about my community with your cheque book, credit card – even your cell phone. Financial contributions make a world of difference.
The Legion’s mission is to serve veterans including those currently serving in the military and RCMP members and their families, to promote remembrance and to serve our communities and our country.
June 24 – 30 is Legion Week and the public is encouraged to drop by the Legion, tour the facility, view the displays and speak to members about the branch. The Legion is open to the public every weekday for lunch, Tuesday – Saturday. June 25 will be a big day with a free public curbside barbecue, a carwash, bottle drive, open house and the unveiling of two new displays.
The week will wrap up June 30 with a free barbecue at Legion Beach for all Quesnel’s first responders and their families.