‘We have to support young veterans’: Manitoba legions push to get younger veterans involved

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Attracting younger veterans to legions
The Royal Canadian Legion in Manitoba says while membership levels are doing well, attracting younger veterans remains a challenge. Marney Blunt reports – Mar 9, 2023

The Royal Canadian Legion is pushing to get younger veterans and their families involved in the organization.

Ernie Tester, the president of the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, says while membership numbers are currently in good standing in their division, the focus continues to be on getting younger people involved.

“We have to support young veterans, work with young veterans, communicate with young veterans and welcome them,” he said.

Tester says the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Command had 17,297 members as of Dec. 31, 2022, and about 14,000 have renewed their membership this year. But he says they’re still pushing to get younger veterans and their families involved, in order to ensure the Legion has support for years to come.

He says looking up to veterans when he was younger was the reason he got involved in the legion back in 1975.

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“I think it’s up to us to work with young veterans and we can support them and be proud of what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished,” Tester told Global News.

“It means so much to me, I looked up to these veterans years ago and I still respect these veterans and I believe we have to respect all veterans.”

At the Royal Canadian Legion West Kildonan Branch 30 in Winnipeg, that is exactly what they’re aiming to do.

Branch president Dominic Jones says they have at least 300 members and are hoping to get younger veterans involved, but it’s proving to be a challenge.

“A lot of the veterans I talked to, and some of them are friends of mine, personal friends of mine, they don’t feel welcome here, (in) a legion,” Jones told Global News.

“As to why, it’s hard to put a finger on it. And that bothers me, that really does – that a veteran wouldn’t feel welcome in a legion. The impression I’m left with is we don’t honour them the way we should.”

Jones says some may be reluctant to share or discuss their service.

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“A lot of them, they don’t want to talk about their experiences where they were – they don’t,” he said.

“But when they sit together, veterans, then you know what each of them is talking about. They know exactly what each of them is talking about. We don’t. We haven’t lived it. And in that respect, maybe that’s where we’re falling down. We don’t understand what they’ve been through, what they’ve done, and in a way, I think we have to reach out to them in a better way than what we’ve been doing, and we are trying to change that.”

Daniel Kidd, the past president of the provincial legion command, says the legion has changed throughout the years.

“Younger veterans are still on the outside of it. The older veterans in the older days didn’t want the younger veterans in – The First World War didn’t want the Second World War and stuff like that. Over the years, (that’s changed).”

Jones says they have a variety of programs and events aimed at attracting younger veterans as well as members of the public, including children’s events and ‘RED Fridays’ which aim to “remember everyone deployed.”

“What we’re trying now is to get those veterans in here and make them feel more welcome,” Jones said.

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“‘Thank you for coming’, sometimes that’s all you have to say and they feel welcome.”

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