The Legion formed in 1926 to unite several different veteran-support organizations. Twenty years later the Bedford branch, Local 95, formed with 46 members. Now it has more than 240 members.
Joyce Pitcher is the immediate past-president of the Bedford branch. She served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a leading airwoman and meteorological technician. Pitcher says the role of the Legion is “to look after and help out with veterans in the community.”
Pitcher says the definition of a veteran has changed over the years. It originally only included those who fought in the world wars, but she explains that now anyone who has completed military service is considered a veteran.
“We have new veterans because we have Afghanistan, [the] Middle East, peacekeeping missions, people who have found themselves in a fire [fight] situation,” Pitcher says. “There are many people who had a full-service career. They were prepared to go to a conflict area, it just might not happen that there was a conflict area at their time of service, but they are still veterans.”
Volunteers manage the Legion and only a few part-time support staff members receive pay. The Legion members assist veterans throughout the year, from cutting red tape to clearing snow. They play a role in the larger community of Bedford as well. They donate five annual $1,000 bursaries to descendants of veterans at CP Allen High School. They host many social events such as dart leagues and bingo, and they attend local commemorative parades to represent veterans.
The November Poppy Campaign is kept in a separate fund from their other fundraising efforts. The Bedford branch puts $35,000 to $40,000 a year from the Poppy Campaign back into the community via programs or services that help veterans. Some funds go directly to veterans who need financial help, but most goes to organizations that provide support services for veterans such as the Cobequid Community Health Centre Foundation, Meals on Wheels, and Feed Nova Scotia.
Stacey Chapman, executive director of the Cobequid Community Health Centre Foundation, says the Legion is an important partner.
The Legion has given more than $180,000 in donations since 1994. Legion members decide what they will fund by talking to veterans and the hospital to find out what is most needed by the aging and/or disabled population, which includes many veterans. Last year, it purchased a much-desired electronic overhead patient lift that assists people with mobility issues to get safely onto a stretcher for the endoscopy suite at the hospital.
“There are a lot of people within the Legion who use the endoscopy suite and they could see the crossover so they’re helping us so that we can help everybody in the community,” Chapman says. “They’re really engaged in the process of deciding what to fund and how it will impact their group; but also how it will help the whole community.”
The annual Poppy Campaign culminates at Remembrance Day ceremonies. In Bedford, the ceremony is held at the cenotaph in Hatchery Park. Pitcher says she’s seen a shift in society’s awareness of the meaning and importance of Remembrance Day in recent years.
“I think it’s because of the worldwide situation and the fact that we do have Canadian military members in dangerous situations,” Pitcher says. “It’s not just in the history books. It’s a live thing and now you can watch a war on television or online whereas in the old days the veterans came back with stories, or were so traumatized that they wouldn’t talk about it, and nobody really understood.”
Pitcher believes that while there are many reasons people serve, they all seem to have one thing in common.
“They go because their country has called, they believe in this, they need to fight to maintain a peace or reestablish a peace, and because they are idealistic,” she says. “They are putting their lives on the line. We need to acknowledge that.”
This acknowledgement continues at the Bedford Legion long after the poppy tables are packed up. Membership is open to anyone who has served, however, civilians who uphold the values of the organization are welcome to become affiliate members to support veterans past, present, and future.
Learn more at www.bedfordLegion.ca and www.Legion.ca.