Legion Week a showcase of community heroes
By Darren Lum
Published Sept. 12, 2017
Legion Week shines a spotlight Ontario’s Royal Canadian Legions, numbering more than 400, reminding the public about their efforts to make communities healthier and vibrant by supporting not only veterans, but community residents from seniors to young people.
Held the third week of September every year, this year’s week of events across the province, as proclaimed by the Ontario Command, begins Sunday, Sept. 17 and concludes Saturday, Sept. 23.
Locally, the Legion in Haliburton invites the public to its flag raising ceremony when members will raise the flag at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 18 at the A.J. LaRue Arena. They will have a dedication ceremony to honour veterans, which includes the planting of commemorative red maple tree with an accompanying dedication plaque for all veterans at 2 p.m. in Head Lake Park. Just after this event, the Legion will formally hang the donated Juno Productions print called Fallen Hero, facilitated by non-profit Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation. It was donated earlier this year by Julia Mackey actor and writer of Jake’s Gift, a one-woman performance that honoured veterans and Remembrance Day. There will be light refreshments provided at their building, located at 719 Mountain Street.
Royal Canadian Legion of Haliburton president Paul Sisson said this week “brings to the forefront for the public to recognize the veterans,” he said.
He joined 40 years ago due in large part to his parents, who both served for Canada in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Air Force and then joined the Haliburton Legion (his mother is a past-president).
The third-year president said this club has been the “hub of Haliburton” since it was incorporated in 1928. The club has hosted a variety of events from senior’s card games, school chess tournaments to blood donor clinics.
Legion Week was started in 1953 by Legion members Ray Lawson of Kent and Harry Miner of Blenheim, who discussed the idea to raise the community’s awareness about the Legion. The first Legion Week event was held later that year in Dresden at Branch 113. An open house was held, allowing the public to come and learn about the Legion. By 1980, after debate, the Ontario Command Provincial Executive Committee Legion Week was declared to be held the third week of September annually, starting on the Sunday and ending on the Saturday.
In a personal message from the premier to the Legions, Kathleen Wynne wrote, “In this province, the Ontario Command of the Legion is the largest service-oriented organization in Ontario with more than 100,000 members who make significant and wide-ranging contributions.”
She said an example is they sponsor community programs for youth and seniors and raise funds for medical care and communities affected by natural disasters.
From a fact sheet with information gathered from a survey of branches provided by the Legion, they have awarded more than $800,000 in grants from the Legion’s Poppy Fund to ex-service personnel and their dependents; contributed $341,000 to seniors’ programs and from the Ontario Provincial Command Branches and Ladies Auxiliaries Charitable Foundation has approved close to $500,000 to communities in Ontario in 2016. There has been close to $16 million donations made to hospitals, health clinics, homes for the aged and charities in the province since the foundation started in 1979.
Between the 2002 to 2003 academic year and the 2016 to 2017 year, the Legion’s bursary program has given 11,032 awards worth close to $5.5 million.
“I therefore commend the Ontario Command for welcoming the public each September to a variety of activities, events and ceremonies that, as part of Legion Week, raise awareness of the Legion’s profound and positive impact. I further applaud the Legion for using this annual event as an opportunity to inspire civic engagement by attracting new members to join and help the Legion deliver more services to the community.”
Sisson welcomes new members, who do not need to be connected to the military, as was required in the past. As president and as the membership chairman, he urges people to volunteer for the Legion. They are needed more than ever since membership has been decreasing.
Besides the charitable work the Legion does, there is also a social aspect to being a member, he said.
The club offers a darts night on Tuesday, starting close to 6:30 p.m. On Fridays, the club hosts a social night, which includes its meat draw at 4:30 p.m. when people can play darts, shuffleboard or pool.
There are currently 395 members, which is down from 2010 when there were just shy of 500. Volunteers are always needed, he said. His only plea to the public is to just “get involved. Get involved.”