Canada will celebrate Legion Week Sept. 20 to 26 and Branch 275 wants people to realize times have changed and Legions today are a far cry from those institutions when they were formed.
At one time, anyone who wanted to be a member had to be a veteran. Then, they had to be a close relative of a veteran.
Fergus Legion President Brian Bilby said in an interview that five years ago, the criteria changed, and today, any Canadian citizen can join.
“The entire world has changed since World War II,” Bilby said.
He noted that in the early days, Legions worked to lobby the federal government for benefits for surviving veterans and their spouses.
“There’s not a need like there was 50 or 60 years ago,” he said.
Bilby said the Legion of today supports local Sports and cultural endeavors, but its one main function, which is unlikely to change, is to make sure that people remember the sacrifices of those who served in wars for freedom.
“Never forget what these people did for us,” he said.
Greg Manion does publicity for Fergus Legion events, and he said he sees the branch as a service club, no different than “Lions or Optimist Clubs.
He said many of the Legion activities focus on Veterans issues, but “People are welcome to join.”
He said that like any other service club, the Fergus Legion Branch 275 wants to increase its membership.
Manion noted that the club has been busy in the past few years. Besides holding Nov. 11 Remembrance Day Services in town and also in Belwood, it contributed to the following events and causes in the community in recent years;
– the Fergus 175 anniversary celebrations;
– the Elora-Fergus Big Brothers Big Sisters;
– Fergus Brass Band;
– Centre Wellington baseball;
– Centre Wellington Men for Missions;
– Fergus Truck Show;
Spina Bifida and Hyrdrocephalus Assoc.;
– Elora midget lacrosse;
Optimist Club Centre Wellington;
– Youth Outdoors Opportunity Day;
– Guelph-Wellington Women In Crisis;
Fergus and District Kinsmen;
– Mill Ridge Pony Club;
– Brighton Chapter #201 OES;
– Crime Stoppers of Wellington;
– Fergus Pipe Band;
– Victims of Violence Canada Centre;
– Fergus Lions Club;
– Groves Memorial Hospital;
– St. John Ambulance;
– Fergus Curling Club;
– Troop Morale Fund;
– Fergus Elora District Soccer; and
– St. Joseph’s Parish.
Manion added that in 2008 alone, the club made donations of over $17,000.
“The Legions do a lot in every community,” Manion said. “We get people coming to us all the time for help.”
Most Legion branches have a Poppy fund. Manion said that according to the constitution, it must be spent on projects that benefit veterans.
So, he explained, Fergus Legion gave $10,000 to the CT Scanner campaign at Groves Hospital, and another $5,000 to purchase firefighting equipment for the local department.
Both of those grants, he said, will aid veterans – and others too. The fund also helped refurbish a bus used by seniors, where the Legion partnered to help out.
The branch also sells Nevada tickets and the money from that is used for charitable works, too.
Manion added that while it is a non-profit service club, the branch receives “no government subsidies.”
The Legion bursary program is designed to assist those students who enter a post secondary school of education (including courses and training programs of a technical and vocational nature) and pursue the same course throughout their academic years.
That program is funded through the Ontario Command Branches and Ladies’ Auxiliaries Charitable Foundation. Ontario Command branches, and Auxiliaries, raise funds for the program through poppy tagging, and other fundraising activities.
While individual branches can do a great deal in a community, as a group across the country they are stronger still.
In Ontario, there are 400 branches with a total membership of over 160,000.
For 2008, grants from Poppy funds to ex-service personnel totaled $1.08-million.
Not including funds spent on veterans, another $448,000 was spent on other seniors programs.
The Legion provides a provincial services bureau for all veterans and ex-service personnel to assist with pension applications and benefits concerns.
The Ladies Auxiliary raised over $630,000 for donations to charities and other projects in 2008;
– bursaries from the Poppy fund totalled $692,000, and the program itself in 2007-08 academic year 845 students received awards from the bursary program.
– other donations from the Poppy fund totally $2.59-million last year.
The provincial Command also sponsors and aids with low cost housing for seniors citizens, and continues to donate special equipment and furnishings to hospitals and extras that are not covered from hospital budgets, from television sets to new vehicles.
The provincial Command sponsors Cubs, Scouts, Guides, and Cadets, as well as other youth programs.
Other donations to charities from the provincial Command totalled $2.4-million, and Command volunteers annual put in over 400,000 hours of work.
All that is done in addition to help to veterans, which includes everything from help in filling out forms to ensuring that veterans and their widows receive all the federal benefits to which they are entitled.