David Havard

Lest we forget: Royal Canadian Legion hopes to bolster ranks

As with other branches across the country, membership at the Smithers branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has dwindled over the years.

As with other branches across the country, membership at the Smithers branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has dwindled over the years.

Now a handful of volunteers are doing all they can to keep the legion and veterans part of the community.

The Smithers branch, first established on August 10, 1919 as part of the Great War Veteran’s Association, now counts only five veterans from the Second World War.

One of those veterans is David Havard, 89, retired field artillery signaller.

For Havard, the legion was an integral part of his life when he returned to Canada.

In addition to being a place where he could continue to share the camaraderie of his fellow brothers in arms, Havard, a former land inspector and agriculturist, the legion is also where he met his wife Rosa, a Captain with the British forces from Wales.

The legion, Havard said, was an important part of their lives.

“It [legion] was a very busy place,” Havard said.

Dances held at the legion drew big crowds even though there was a little extra effort involved.

“We had to pack the piano up and down the stairs,” Havard said with a chuckle, remembering the heydays of the legion.

Those heydays have slipped away as veterans passed away and fewer members of the Armed Forces join the legion and fewer volunteers step up to offer their help, Terri Steidel, who spent 18 years in the Canadian Navy as an administrator, said.

“This place was hopping, we had more than 300 members, but our numbers are dropping,” Steidel said.

“We now have less than 200 members on the books.”

To help improve their lot the Royal Canadian Legion opened membership to the public, which has helped a bit, but Steidel said they still need more members and more volunteers.

“Many of the volunteers are getting old, they don’t have enough energy,” Steidel said.

“It’s the same with the ladies’ auxiliary.”

Part of the problem Steidel said is the community is unaware of what the legion offers its members.

For example, in addition to the social aspect of the Legion, Steidel said the legion also sponsors high school curling teams, track athletes and some members undertake hospital and house visits.

The Royal Canadian Legion and ladies auxiliary have provided bursaries and donations throughout the years to various organizations both youth and senior oriented, she said.

As well the legion supports the Senior Games, youth sports,  Sea Cadets, Pathfinders, the Bulkley Valley District Hospital, Bulkley Lodge and the Spinoza Bear Program which provides stuffed toys for hospitalized children.

Further afield, the Legion Foundation also supports veterans in areas such as the Caribbean, where no legion exists.

Although the legion was in part established to honour the memory and service of veterans, Steidel accepts that these are busy times and people have other things to do and in the rush of modern-day life, the unfortunate happens.

“People forget we’re here,” Steidel said.

For information on membership to the legion or Ladies Auxiliary, volunteering, or to rent the legion hall call 250-847-5082.


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