How the Legion became Canada’s primary veterans’ association

The beginnings of the Legion, as we know it today, started at the end of the First World War

A donation to the Legion set historian Doug Carey on a path to discover Legion roots.

When Legion member Robert Feist passed away, his wife Jean found an interesting folder and upon examining it, determined it might be relevant to the Legion archives. She gave the folder to Doug Carey, Legion 2nd vice president in charge of memorabilia.

In the folder were two photographs, two newspaper articles and a letter from Vernon Spears, whose return address was Quesnel.

In his letter dated July 4, 1992, Spears speaks of finding these items in the effects of his late father-in-law Herbert Stafford, living in Vancouver at the time of his death, who served with the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles and went overseas with the 7th Battalion in 1915. He was wounded at Ypres and later repatriated and served on the welcoming committee for veterans arriving home in Vancouver.

One of the newspaper articles included in the package identified Stafford in the photos, one taken in Vancouver and one in Winnipeg, of the War Veterans Association where Stafford was the president of the Vancouver association.

There were about 15 veteran associations in Canada after the First World War including the Great War Veterans Association formed in 1917 and by 1919 it was the biggest in the country. British Field Marshall Haig, who founded the British Empire Services League (BESL), travelled to Canada and urged all the veteran services to merge and in 1925 the Dominion Veteran Alliance was formed. In November of that year, the Canadian Legion was formed in Winnipeg as the Canadian Legion of the BESL. It was well documented that returning veterans had many needs that were not being met and the Legion’s mission was to provide services to these ex-servicemen.

In 1926 the Canadian Legion received a parliamentary charter officially recognizing the organization.

In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II granted the Canadian Legion a Royal patronage and it became the Royal Canadian Legion.

Doug is thrilled with this little slice of Legion history as it speaks to the beginning of the organization and provides a small window into the world of post-First World War Canada.

He has mounted the material in a large picture frame and will be unveiling it during Legion Week festivities on June 25 beginning at 10:30 a.m. Drop by the Quesnel Legion for a free curb side community barbecue, a car wash, bottle drive and the unveiling of two very special new displays. There is also a special barbecue planned for first responders and their families, by invitation only, at Legion Beach at the culmination of Legion Week, June 30.

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