It’s always great to have friends over for a birthday party but even organizers of the Royal Canadian Legion Trail Branch #11 85th anniversary were surprised at the turnout.
The open house saw more than 100 people filter through the building throughout Tuesday afternoon, perusing through photos, newspaper articles and other pieces of the branch’s history.
Cake, food and refreshments were also on-hand, along with endless stories.
“I think everybody is very proud of it obviously, to have been in this town as one of the longest serving service clubs,” said former president Rob Reilly.
The branch was given its charter on July 12, 1926, making it one of the first in B.C. and in Canada. The original building was downtown and acted as the social centre for World War I veterans, equipped with a swimming pool, bowling lanes, meeting rooms and gymnasium.
In the 1970’s the building became too expensive to maintain, so it was sold to an antique dealer and in a few years the Legion’s current location became their new home.
The Legion has been very active in the community since day one, holding events like cabaret shows and dances at the hall. Serving veterans still remains a key initiative of the Legion today but community involvement in other areas is just as important.
The branch offers scholarships to students pursuing post-secondary and supports sports teams and other local events. On a provincial level, the organization supports a UBC doctor’s program and supplies all the medals for the BC Seniors Games, among others.
Trail is just as dedicated to supporting its Legion too it seems — the money from poppy and wreath campaigns goes up every year, said Reilly, and turnouts for Remembrance Day ceremonies steadily increase too.
He pointed to their celebrations on Tuesday — even they weren’t expecting that many people to come through and see what the Legion was up to.
“And we’re always asked to participate in special events,” said Glenda Reilly, Legion secretary for the past 15 years, saying they’re frequently approached to provide a colour party.
Another reason Trail’s branch has remained opened despite others in the region closing their doors is due to their membership number — around 500, said new president Vern Schneider, but the number of active members has dwindled. He hopes to see that number grow in the future, but admitted getting the younger crowd involved is tough.
Military service is no longer a requirement to join, which has opened the doors to what was stereotyped as an old men’s club.
“It’s a way for people to get involved and give back to the community and it’s a social gathering,” Rob explained.
The move from the original building is one of the biggest moments in the branch’s history, but another was the B.C/Yukon Royal Canadian Legion Convention they hosted in 2009, where 350 delegates flooded the city for the event.
“That was a big undertaking for a branch as small as we are so to take that on and do it quite successfully, we’re very proud of it.”
The annual veteran banquets also make up proud moments in the branch’s history, as they’ve moved from having politicians as guests of honour to veterans of past and present military campaigns.
The toughest aspect of being around for 85 years is losing long-time members to age and health problems, said Glenda. But such is life, and the Legion looks to the future.
“Eighty-five years is a long time and hopefully we’ll be around for a lot longer,” Rob stated. “If the support is there and people are willing to throw in a helping hand once in a while … We’ll be around for a long time.”