As far as civic traditions go, Remembrance Day and the Royal Canadian Legion would seem to fit hand-and-glove. Yet, both are changing here in Grand Forks.
Under pandemic conditions, there won’t be much of a parade. There will be an 11th-hour service at the cenotaph as in years past, albeit without a marching band or a post-parade lunch at Branch 59.
Then there’s branch president Chantel Evers — young, civilian and female. Nothing in that description predicts how she’ll fare in her new role, but it can safely be said she doesn’t bear the grisly countenance one might expect from a Legion president.
“I’m an employment specialist for people with developmental disabilities,” she told The Gazette.
“I’m also a mom and a wife — and a Girl Guide leader.” In fact, she’s volunteered on the executives of just about every community organization in town, including the Boundary chapter of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, where her son rose to the rank of Warrant Officer, second class.
“That’s how I got to know the Legion in our community,” she explained. “It was through working hand-in-hand with them and co-ordinating fundraisers and helping out with the poppies.”
Evers said she knew it was time for her to lead the Legion after the local Cadets’ branch folded in 2019. She’d practically grown up at the Abbotsford Legion, where her grandfather, Ray Archer Vernon Lovegrove, was president almost until he died in 1998.
Evers, then 14, said Lovegrove had been there for her when it mattered most. “He was the dad I’d wished I had growing up,” she said.
Lovegrove had served with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War, and his granddaughter has showed up for him every year on Nov. 11.
“Remembrance Day for me is about honouring my grandfather … For younger generations, it really is that connection to someone we know who’s been a part of it that drives us. I don’t know too many people at the Legion who take a standing role at the executive who don’t have that connection somehow,” Evers said.
There are nearly 200 due-paying members at Branch 59. But Evers had to admit the Legion’s core membership won’t be around forever. Lounge conversations tend to focus on cultural memories of the First and Second World Wars. It will fall to young vets and civilians like Evers to carry on not just Remembrance Day, but the Legion itself.
It’s here that Evers’ commitment to her grandfather’s legacy meets her vision for the Branch 59’s future. Replenishing the ranks is a big part of that vision.
“I foresee our Legion growing in numbers, generationally,” she said, adding that she wants to attract new and younger members by increasing the Legion’s profile.
“I want to encompass community within our Legion. We already do, but I see it on a broader platform where we reach out to people who aren’t aware or who aren’t informed well enough about what our Legion does for our community. I think it’s the lack of information or maybe a lack of awareness that keeps people from actually coming through and joining the Legion.”
Evers will be wearing her grandfather’s presidential tie at the 11th-hour.
The pandemic continues, but there’s a semblance of normalcy back at the Lounge, where Saturday meat-draws started back up last month. Monthly dinners are on their way back, too. Evers would love to see you at one soon.