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Legionnaires soldiering on despite red tape


Legionnaires soldiering on despite red tape

Sometimes there’s too much red tape wrapped around the world for our own good.

Branch 60 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Burlington knows all about it.

For many years the branch donated money from its Poppy Fund to worthy local causes like the Carpenter Hospice, Meals On Wheels and the St. John Ambulance.

Branch President Matt MacPherson estimates the annual donation to the hospice was between $5,000 and $15,000.

However, for the last two years the Legion’s Provincial Command has required each branch to submit proof that war veterans use these services.

“I have a membership committee that authorizes a donation to the hospice,” MacPherson said. “It’s passed by the general membership, then I send it to Provincial Command and they turn us down.”

MacPherson said that because of the Privacy Act, it’s impossible for the branch to access those names and numbers.

“I know from my experience that a lot of our members end up at the Carpenter Hospice at the end or their lives,” he said. “It’s an impossible task they’ve (Provincial Command) handed us.”

Burlingtonians generously contributed $156,000 to the local Poppy Fund in 2019.

Brian Harris, the Provincial Poppy Chair, said the idea of the Poppy Fund is to help veterans and their dependants. Sometimes if a request is denied, he said, it’s only because not enough information has been provided on a form sent out to the branch.

“We never deny a request unless there’s a legitimate reason why,” he said.

Harris also said branches can make donations to the hospice by applying for money through another route from the Legion’s provincial charitable foundation.

MacPherson, a former Staff Inspector with Halton Regional Police, has been President for the last 14 years. When he retired from the police service, he was in charge of the Major Crime Unit.

He realizes some branches in Ontario have been forced to close for financial reasons, but says Branch 60 is okay so far.

“We’ve been pretty close to it a couple of times,” he said. “But we were able to sell three-quarters of an acre of property behind the branch.”

At its peak, Branch 60 had more than 3,000 members. But with more and more veterans dying every year, that figure has shrunk to just over 600 – 20 per cent of what it used to be.

Saturday afternoon bingos raise money for local charities. The branch also raises money from darts, snooker and euchre leagues. The ladies auxiliary organizes dinners and revenue results from the rental of two rooms upstairs at the branch.

According to a longstanding tradition, Friday is fish and chips night. The bar, however, is no longer a big money-raiser.

“Many of our members are on prescriptions and don’t drink as much as they used to.” MacPherson said. “That’s also because of the new laws against drinking and driving.”

“The people of Burlington support the Poppy Fund very well,” MacPherson said. “They’re quite aware of what the Legion does. They view us as a pillar of the community, so to speak.”

Branch 60 opened in 1926 in what is now home to the Iron Duke Sea Cadets at the corner of Elizabeth and James Streets. It was previously a Methodist Episcopal Church and later a Sunday school for St. Luke’s Anglican Church.

Tom Waumsley, a prominent businessman who operated a magazine and smoke shop on Brant Street, was the first President.

The Legion’s next home was a house on the shores of Lake Ontario at the foot of Elizabeth Street. The house had a wrap- around verandah and plenty of room outside to have a horseshoe pit and picnics right on the lake

Today a high-rise condominium building and hotel are close to being completed there.

Finally, the branch moved to its current location on Legion Road, just off Graham’s Lane, in 1959.

Elmer Harper, who once operated two gas stations in Burlington, is the oldest member of Branch 60 at the age of 94.

He joined the Legion in Wallaceburg in 1945 and has been a Legionnaire for 75 years.

Son Jim Harper said his father paid $2 to join and 50 cents for his first-year pin. Today, members pay dues of $55 annually, which is still a bargain in modern-day times.

Elmer joined the Navy at the age of 18, did guard duty in Halifax and was training on the HMCS Haida at the end of the Second World War.

He was there during the Halifax Riots in 1945 when liquor stores shut down in anticipation of a huge celebration in the city, which was overcrowded with soldiers and sailors.

“Instead of letting them rob the liquor stores, the RCMP just stood at the doors and handed out one bottle at a time!” Jim said. Story By DENIS GIBBONS

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