This overview by Nujma Bond was first published in Legion magazine’s March-April 2022 issue. Photos were later added by The Royal Canadian Legion.
Perseverance through uncertainty
With resilience, dedication and focus, Royal Canadian Legion members and volunteers across the country weathered another year of uncertainty. Yet the thousands of people who help the Legion fulfil its mission were not deterred in 2021.
Legion Service Officers demonstrated their commitment to ensure care for Veterans continued. The National Headquarters supported Dominion Command, provincial commands and branches which, in turn, continued serving communities despite reduced hours and varying closures.
The Legion welcomed 25,000 new members and produced new innovations to help carry it through the National Poppy Campaign. Its public relations and advocacy efforts resulted in widespread coverage and interest and helped celebrate the 100th anniversary of the poppy. It managed a virtual convention, a restricted National Remembrance Day Ceremony, and thousands of poppy product orders.
All under the cloud of the ongoing pandemic.
SERVING VETERANS & THEIR FAMILIES
At the core of the Legion’s mission is ensuring that Veterans and families receive the help they need. Work on this front continued in earnest in 2021.
Making a difference on the ground
The Legion’s Veterans Services department provided its characteristic high degree of support through service officers at all levels of the organization.
Poppy Funds donated by Canadians each year, make it possible for the Legion to support individual Veterans with important needs. Grants for essential items like food, fuel, clothing, prescription medication, medical equipment and emergency shelter helped improve life for those who required assistance in 2021. The Legion also continued to assist many Veterans with benefit applications and appeals.
Each year, heartfelt words of thanks are genuine reminders of the importance of the Legion’s mission. After years of having their disability benefit applications rejected, many Veterans appreciated that the Legion was able to wade through new rules, complete their applications, and reverse the outcome - thanks to changes in policies at Veterans Affairs Canada.
After hearing from one concerned family member, service officers helped place a Veteran safely in long term care along with subsidized funding. In another case, a veteran reached out after being denied disability benefits for years, related to sexual assault during her service. The Legion worked to get her disability and treatment benefits. She later revealed that the compassion and support provided a major step forward in her recovery, sharing a letter previously written while in the depths of despair.
Research and advocacy
Supporting research is of key importance to the organization, ultimately leading to better outcomes for Canada’s veterans. Each year the Legion offers The Royal Canadian Legion’s Masters Scholarship through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR). In 2021, $30,000 went to a master’s degree student at the University of Manitoba who is investigating the chronic pain profile of Canadian Armed Forces members affected by traumatic brain injury. Support funds were also presented to Concussion Legacy Foundation Canada for additional brain-related research.
The Legion supports organizations that provide healing programs at no cost to Veterans and their families and in 2021 it provided financial assistance to Heroes Mending on the Fly Canada. It also supported initiatives designed to help Veterans cope with challenges, such as a Ways to Wellbeing video about healing trauma, and a resiliency training program by the Heroes in Mind Advocacy and Research Consortium which received significant funding in 2021 as part of a three-year commitment.
The Legion actively pursued advocacy efforts in public and behind the scenes. It asked the federal government to do more to save the lives of Afghans who helped our soldiers during Canada’s mission in that country; it shared its strong views on what needs to be done in the wake of revelations about sexual trauma cases within the Canadian Armed Forces; and it pushed for recognition for Veterans deserving of honours such as the Canadian Victoria Cross.
Advocacy efforts with the federal government in 2020 had resulted in the granting of 14 million dollars to help branches stay operational throughout the pandemic. The remaining funds from that welcome relief package were disbursed via the Legion’s Finance Department in 2021, helping to stem the closure of any other Branches.
As part of its support programming for Veterans residing overseas, the Legion provided funding so more than 75 veterans and widows in Caribbean countries could enjoy two meals a day and to help repair dwellings.
In addition, the Legion distributed assistance to 95 Veterans and widows on behalf of several benevolent funds and international entities like the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League. The Legion is the North American contact for allied veterans and widows on this continent.
It took constant vigilance to adhere to pandemic-related rules and modify work requirements accordingly.
The most extreme change came with the planning of the national Dominion Convention which typically takes place in person. Corporate Services pulled out all the stops to hold a successful online version of the convention. A new executive team was elected, new resolutions were passed, and delegates came away armed with new information gleaned during a series of special workshops – from public relations tips to membership processing.
In 2021, the Legion’s national supply department processed thousands of orders and handled 45,000 parcels, delivering a wide range of items from clothing to commemorative pins. Sales helped allow the Legion to operate at all levels and ensure its ability to support Veterans across the country. This year, a new Poppy-themed lawn sign enabled visible support during the Remembrance period and was a hit right out of the gate – with over 30,000 sold.
In 2021, the Legion again had to track down operators of sites selling fraudulent items – products involving the Poppy symbol or Legion name. The only legitimate sites are Legion.ca and Poppystore.ca.
The evolution of the membership experience continued with more than 75 per cent of all Legion memberships being processed online in 2021. A new Veteran Family Welcome Program launched, offering a free one-year membership to the immediate family of new Veteran and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Legion members. MemberPerks®which provides complimentary access to thousands of offers and deals at retailers across Canada, grew to over 23,000 registrants in 2021, its second year.
National marketing and communications efforts generated interest in the Legion’s programs and services and its advocacy work. The Legion website, social posts, media outreach, television and radio spots all helped boost Poppy Store revenues and campaign donations and promoted the 100th anniversary of the poppy along with other elements of the National Poppy Campaign. Hundreds of national and local media stories were aired, published, and shared across the country, facilitating awareness of the Legion’s role in supporting Canada’s Veterans.
Stories of national interest covered by media in 2021 included the Legion’s public decision to hoist then lower the flag during the national Remembrance Day ceremony, innovations to its National Poppy Campaign, and the Legion’s thoughts about the current backlog in processing Veteran benefit claims, among other topics.
The Legion normally provides companionship to hundreds of Veterans in long-term care facilities across the country, but that important activity held in conjunction with VAC was suspended in 2021 due to COVID-19.
PROMOTING REMEMBRANCE & NATIONAL POPPY CAMPAIGN
The 100th anniversary of the Poppy as Canada’s symbol of Remembrance took centre stage in 2021, permeating local and national initiatives and highlighting the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa.
Our Poppy and Remembrance division came up with a limited collection of digital Poppy artwork for sale, featuring a 3D replica of a genuine flower from Flanders Fields with the names of 118,000 fallen Canadian soldiers on its petals. Other tributes from partners included a commemorative coin by the Royal Canadian Mint, and a commemorative stamp by Canada Post.
An unexpected provincial decision meant spectators could attend the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day, forcing some last-minute planning. There was a CF-18 fly-past and limited special guests and veteran groups placed wreaths. Canada’s National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother, Josée Simard placed one on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child in military service to Canada. An estimated 15,000 people attended and national media remarked how the Legion runs the ceremony like “clockwork.” Numerous comments on social media also reflected Canadians’ appreciation of the Legion’s management of the commemoration.
The pandemic made it harder to plan and execute our National Poppy Campaign, but even with restricted communications and steeper learning curves related to new donation technologies, members persevered and pulled it off.
Poppy Trust Funds raised each year are channeled into initiatives for Veterans and their families, their communities, and to promote Remembrance. The campaign began ceremoniously when Governor General Mary May Simon accepted the first poppy at Rideau Hall in mid-October. The campaign officially went into full swing on October 29. Generous Canadians participated in several ways.
One thousand upgraded Pay Tribute “tap to give” boxes allowed touchless donation in combinations of $2, $5, or $10. Thousands of traditional Poppy boxes were also located across the country. Online donations happened through Legion.ca.
To encourage donations, energetic Branches and Commands executed new ideas like drive-through poppy fund events, and strong corporate partners offered initiatives like Second World War ration samples for delivery. The Digital Poppy presented by the independent Legion National Foundation (LNF) allowed donors to dedicate a Poppy online. Over 16,000 people participated in 2021, raising $445,000 for important LNF programs to support our Veterans and promote remembrance.
The Legion’s sixth annual nightly Virtual Poppy Drop took place with 118,000 virtual poppies cascading onto the Peace Tower and the nearby Senate of Canada building. An onsite tribute video shared the names and pictures of many Canadian veterans who have served our nation. Landmarks across Canada, including the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver and the CN Tower in Toronto, were illuminated to create a visual show of remembrance.
The in-person commemorative Nijmegen Marches in the Netherlands were cancelled again in 2021. However, the Legion’s national representative, Joan Cook, successfully participated in the Canadian Armed Forces’ virtual version of the event.
SUPPORTING OUR YOUTH AND MEMBER SPORTS
While the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Legion’s annual National Youth Track and Field Championships, they are slated to resume in 2022 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Some 700 young athletes from around the country compete in track and field events, setting new records and helping to lay the foundation for future greatness in the sporting world.
The Dominion Member Sports Championships normally held to showcase the best in cribbage, darts and 8-ball were also cancelled in 2021. Even so, many Branches resumed local play whenever possible, to the delight of local talent.
In 2022, the Legion will continue to push for a robust homeless veterans strategy, an end to the VAC disability application backlog, and more clarity on Veteran-related programs that were to flow from the latest federal budget. It will keep a close eye on any support initiatives to help survivors of military sexual trauma.
The Legion will continue to invite new members and upgrade the member experience. A new Digital Legion Membership card will be offered this year when members join or renew online. New products will appear in the Legion’s Poppy store, and new ideas are welcome. Planning will also get underway for the 2024 Dominion Convention in St. John, New Brunswick.
In conjunction with the Legion, the LNF has plans for new remembrance-themed gaming platforms to reach young Canadians. Further enhancements to the Pay Tribute box and Digital Poppy are in the works and the annual poster and literary contest and teaching guides will grow to help educate students.
The Legion thanks its members, partners, and supporters for guiding it through 2021. This work and devotion reflects what the Legion is all about – caring for our veterans, their families, and our communities. The Legion looks forward to what will be accomplished together in 2022.
Nujma Bond is the manager of communications at the Legion’s National Headquarters.
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