Island Legions cut services, struggle to survive pandemic
VICTORIA -- When the First World War ended in 1918, Canada had proven itself on the world stage.
“They were certainly a force to be reckoned with,” said David Zimmerman, a professor of military history and the University of Victoria.
But when Canadian soldiers returned home, the repercussions of what they went through became evident.
“Ultimately they were broken somewhat,” said Doug Grant, general manager of the Esquimalt Dockyard Legion.
They were suffering from shell shock, now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.
“In fact, there was something like 125,000 soldiers that came back with some form of disability,” said Zimmerman.
Common injuries included loss of limbs and lung issues after mustard gas attacks. After the war, an estimated 50 agencies were established to help those returning veterans. But, what those groups soon realized was that their message was getting spread thin and they needed a common voice.
That’s when the Legion was formed across the country.
“This became the collective voice for former soldiers,” said Zimmerman.
It was a voice of nearly 600,000 returning veterans.
“So, they became a very powerful and influential organization and even more so after the Second World War,” said the UVic Professor.
So what does the Legion actually do?
It is an advocacy group for veterans, and it does a lot of work that isn’t often publicized.
“We don’t tell anybody who we take Christmas hampers to during the year,” said Grant. “We take presents to the children who are within that family.”
The Legion doesn’t talk about it, but they house homeless veterans, supply medication and food to families in need and provide education funding for children of veterans – among other things.
“What is very helpful now for people suffering from PTSD is a service dog,” said Grant. “Now these service dogs are unbelievable in what they can do and what they’re trained to do.”
All of the Legion’s work is funded through money raised through fundraisers, like the annual Poppy Fund. But those funds are becoming more difficult to find during a pandemic, and tough decisions have to be made.
A casualty of the pandemic this year is the loss of Christmas hampers for struggling veterans and their families.
“We’ve cut back on that by 100 per cent,” said the general manager of the Esquimalt Dockyard Legion. “We’re just not able to do that anymore.”
Just keeping Legions open is becoming a challenge. Ted Leaker is the second vice president of the Trafalgar/Pro Patria Legion in Victoria.
“The problem that we’re experiencing right now with the COVID is that we’re restricted on how many people we can actually have in the building,” said Leaker.
At the Victoria Legion, the games room had to be closed, and banquets and weddings had to be cancelled. Now, the Victoria Legion is staring down a $75,000 property tax bill.
“Right now, we’re able to maintain,” said Leaker.
But for how long is the question.
With a dwindling membership, COVID-19 restrictions and funds becoming harder to find, it’s becoming more difficult for Legions to provide for our veterans in the way that they once did.