Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Bonnyville Legion celebrates its 70th anniversary

For the Bonnyville Nouvelle.

Legion Branch President Dan Gates, Hall Manager Duane Hite, Mayor Gene Sobolewski, Lt. (N) Bob McRae, Ladies Auxiliary President Roberta Daniels and Ladies Auxiliary member Margow Matthews stand with a pair of memorial wreaths laid to remember the fallen.
Eric Bowling

While everyone in Bonnyville was out in full-force to celebrate Canada Day last Friday, a large number of people had an additional milestone to celebrate.

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 183 celebrated its 70th anniversary with an open house in Bonnyville on July 1 with a crowded hall of veterans, their families, friends and supporters.

“I’m amazed by the turnout, considering how little we got the word out,” joked Branch President Dan Gates.

A long-time pillar of the Town of Bonnyville, the legion was bestowed the honour of a municipal proclamation granting “Freedom of the Town,” essentially granting the legion the right to march through town in full battle dress, if they should choose to.

The actual anniversary of the legion was April 2, but the legion held off celebrations to be able to enjoy the nice July weather. The wanted to coincide with the Canada Day celebrations and to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, which began a century ago on July 1. The Battle of the Somme was one of the deadliest battles in history, where over a million people were killed.

“In the Battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland regiment was decimated,” explained Gates. “Newfoundland natives are such a large part of our community now that it seemed as good a day to celebrate our anniversary as any.”

While the memory of the fallen was fresh in everyone’s minds, that didn’t stop the legionnaires from celebrating their lives and memories with cheer.

“It means a lot to us to have a legion in the town. You can go to a lot of things and mix it up with friends,” said Bill McGregor, a 93-year-old veteran of the Second World War who served as a field medic on D-Day with the Essex Scottish. “The legion should be kept up – it’s a memorial to people who fought in the war.”

McGregor added he and his wife Lorane try to make it to the legion once a week.

Two wreaths were laid at the memorial to honour the fallen during the open house.

Former legion treasurer and current Mayor Gene Sobolewski mentioned the legion was an indispensable ally in the community.

“It’s incredibly important to us. They’re integral to providing a lot of services, particularly with the hospitals and veterans and seniors and things like that,” praised Sobolewski. “It’s a fantastic addition to the community.”

The legion has kept up to Sobolewski’s praises. Gates pointed out that the legion had recently donated $5,000 to STARS Air Ambulance, as well as $5,000 to Bonnyville Long-Term Care.

Gates expressed his hope that the celebration would help encourage younger veterans of more recent conflicts and their families to get involved in the organization.

“That’s a challenge for legions everywhere – trying to get new veterans to join branches. We’re working on it and hope to get more,” noted Gates.

McGregor commented that younger veterans are often busy with their families and post-military lives, and would find their way to the legion eventually.

“When you’re older you have a lot more free time to get involved and volunteer,” added McGregor. “The legions are a good thing; they should get involved.”

The Bonnyville branch of the legion was opened in 1946 with 39 veterans, seven of which were First World War veterans and two of which had seen both world wars. Currently the legion has 85 members, comprising of both veterans and civilians.

Canada Day Celebrations

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