Ask a Legion member what it means to be part of a group that cares deeply for Veterans, and you’ll hear words like “a very positive experience” or “saved my life.” You’ll also hear about fun and comradeship.
Ninety-six-year-old Phyllis Bunn first joined decades ago in Acton, ON, at the urging of her late husband. On the cusp of 97, she now lives in Collingwood, ON and remains a member. She recalls her years of volunteering with the Legion fondly. “I loved it,” she says.
As an aerial photographer in the Air Force, Bunn would photograph pilot testing sessions: guns being shot, bombs being dropped. Her photography would help determine if a pilot would ultimately pass an exam. As a Legion volunteer she agreed to share some of her experiences in schools.
“They got me to talk to children, trying to explain about the war,” she says. “I loved those kids. They sat around, I sat in the middle and the kids would ask questions.”
Everyone is welcome
You don’t have to be a military Veteran to join the Legion and serve in a multitude of ways. Any Canadian at least 18 years of age is welcome. A membership alone is also an important form of support even if you’re not able to participate in activities - it helps support and defray the costs of Legion programs, services, and operations across the country.
If you prefer to volunteer or take action, you can share your skills and implement ideas. You become part of a national network of almost a quarter of a million people who believe supporting our Veterans and their families, strengthening our communities, and promoting Remembrance are fundamental to being Canadian and living in a free society.
You might choose to volunteer locally, provincially, or even nationally depending upon your interests. There’s always room for improvement at every level and members bring fresh ideas. In turn, membership brings new social connections.
“I get it because I’m ex-military, and for the comradeship,” says former Air Force military police Veteran Keith Hood. His work included serving in Canada, Cyprus and Bermuda and he recently renewed for five additional years at his Branch in Calgary, AB.
According to Nick Pilipchuk, now 91, new Veterans in Canada “should all join, because it’s a good organization,” he says. A Korean War Veteran, he still volunteers at the local level in Callander, ON and will lay a wreath at an upcoming Remembrance ceremony.
As an Air Force navigator based in Summerside, PEI, Pilipchuk joined the Legion when he retired from the Forces. His volunteer role included overseeing Legion sports activities at his Branch – including games like cribbage and darts. He still enjoys the camaraderie of heading to the Legion and talking with people there. “It’s like a living room, they’re very friendly!” he laughs.
With 1,380 Branches across the country, there’s one just around the corner no matter where you live. Branches are primarily volunteer run with a lot of independence and rely on the goodwill of community members who care.
Getting involved means supporting Branch work – from operational matters such as organizing events and cooking meals, to forming one-to-one relationships with Veterans in the community who may need a visit or a helping hand.
Become a local Service Officer and become a first line of contact for a Veteran in need of companionship, emergency supplies, or help with an operational stress injury. Work on your local Poppy Campaign and hand out poppies or prepare them for distribution in your community in November. Volunteer with Legion Sports and help young track and field athletes in your community compete at the Legion Nationals and beyond.
Start something new and watch it grow. Branch member Craig Hood founded Operation VetBuild in Ajax, ON in 2019. Since then, his idea of bringing Veterans together to build models in a supportive environment, has blossomed into a national initiative with close to 25 locations to date. From presenting the idea to Legion leadership, to implementation, “things moved extremely quickly,” he says. “It has been a very positive experience for me, joining a Branch.”
Hood is a Veteran who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan and remains an active member of the Reserves in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. He joined his local Branch with apprehension, after noticing a media article about a Legion decision he didn’t agree with. He decided to become involved, make some changes and encourage more Veterans to join.
“The Legion overall has been open to change and evolution, I have been very happy,” says Hood. “I’m proud I was able to effect some change and proud of how the Legion opened its arms to me and to those around me.”
If you become part of a provincial executive team you play a role in shaping the Legion in your province or territory. You might attend a provincial convention and discuss resolutions designed to strengthen work at a provincial level. Volunteering at a provincial level can bring deep satisfaction, from working on peer support initiatives to overseeing important programs.
Dave Gordon serves as Ontario Command’s Provincial Homeless Veterans Program Chairman. The son of a Veteran, he has helped with a range of projects over the years.
“It has given me the opportunity to serve our Veterans and their families and hopefully in some way enhance their lives,” he says.
In 2010, the Legion’s Ontario Command began a partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada to help homeless Veterans in the province. Gordon says Legion Branches in Ontario and the Ladies Auxiliary later joined forces to raise funds, and the rest is history. It has grown into a major provincial initiative. As of January 2021, the program called Operation Leave the Streets Behind, has helped over 900 homeless Veterans – including 92 women - in 175 Ontario communities.
Veteran homelessness is a key focus area of the Legion as a whole.
A national perspective
Elected as a Dominion Vice President in 2018, Owen Parkhouse, CD, decided to join the Legion almost 20 years ago when he was serving in East Timor in Southeast Asia (now known as Timor-Leste). He had picked up a copy of Legion magazine, some of the only reading material he and others had at the time.
“Having been released from the military due to severe PTSD, I needed to find a ‘purpose in life’ and the Legion gave me the opportunity to help fellow Veterans. I believe that when you help others you also help yourself,” he says, calling his Legion connection a life-saver.
Today, Parkhouse, a member in Morell, PEI, regularly promotes Remembrance, helps with public relations efforts, and says he uses leadership skills gained in the military in his role as a Legion Vice President. “The Legion does make a definite difference from coast to coast to coast and I encourage more Veterans to join and become part of the family,” he says.
All members can contribute nationally by sharing ideas, helping to advocate, or implementing local programs with a national scope. They can also run for local leadership positions and eventually have an opportunity to be elected to the national executive team.
Along with serving Veterans, their families and communities, members receive regular updates on Legion work and advocacy, a monthly copy of Legion Magazine, special rates at retailers across the country, and special pricing for some products in the Legion’s online Poppy Store.
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