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A Voice for Veterans

For the week of Monday November 25, 2013

On the weekend of November 25-27, 1925, the Royal Canadian Legion – Canada’s largest veteran-based social, service and advocacy organization – was founded during a conference of the Great War Veterans Association at the Marlborough Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, delegates from various veterans’ organizations agreed to form a new national group called the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, later re-named the Royal Canadian Legion in 1926. Based on the twin pillars of loyalty and comradeship, it was created so that First World War veterans could advocate for benefits through one unified voice and perpetuate the memory of their fellow soldiers.

First president of the Legion, Lieutenant-General Sir Percy Lake
© Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, 2008.
When the War ended in 1918, some 350,000 soldiers returned to Canada from overseas and 73,000 soldiers still in Canada were demobilized. All had to be re-integrated into society, but many of them found it difficult to re-adjust to civilian life. Some veterans had trouble finding employment in a rapidly modernizing world, while others dealt with injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Soldiers’ clubs were formed and many of them were eventually dedicated to improving the conditions for veterans in Canada. They requested support from the federal government for the treatment of the war-wounded, distribution of pensions and war allowances, and care for the dependants of the dead and disabled.

 

The Marlborough Hotel, Winnipeg
© Image courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.
By the mid-1920s, there were more than 15 veterans’ organizations in Canada competing for the attention of the people and government. It quickly became clear that to achieve their goals, veterans needed to speak with one voice.

The Legion became an influential advocate for veterans’ rights, persuading the Canadian government to pass the War Veteran’s Allowances Act in 1930, which provides benefits and pensions to wounded soldiers. Learning from the past, it was active during the Second World War, prompting the Canadian government to better serve its soldiers by creating the Veterans Charter and a separate Department of Veterans Affairs. The Legion also established a tradition of community involvement with programs like sports activities for youth. It runs the high-profile annual Poppy Campaign, which serves as a major source of funding for its programs and helps perpetuate Remembrance Day.

The Founding of the Royal Canadian Legion was designated a National Historic Event in 2009. To read about other advocacy groups in Canada, please see "A National Voice of Parents in Education," The Canadian Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and "The Convention of All Canadian Jews."

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