By Charlie Senack
The Westboro Legion has been a staple in the community for generations, and this year it is gearing up for their 75th anniversary.
Founded in 1947, the Nepean Legion as it was then known, first operated from members’ homes and basements, or whatever locations were available. They later moved to Cook Memorial Hall on Wilmont Avenue, before buying property at 375-381 Richmond Rd. in November 1968.
That building, which included a shop and two apartments, did not remain home for very long. By the end of 1972 the Legion branch grew to more than 100 members and needed more space. The following year it bought the former Robinson’s IGA at 389-391 Richmond Rd.
Since first opening, the Westboro Legion has been a popular community gathering spot. It donates the space to organizations which can’t afford their own, and hosts parties, weddings, and celebrations of life.
In addition to their physical presence, the legion has helped thousands of people over the last 75 years, and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity.
“Without the legions there wouldn’t be support for veterans or the community around the legions,” said Westboro Legion president Greg Murphy. “We give a big donation to the Perley (Rideau Veterans Health Centre) for new beds or whatever they need. We give donations to veterans who are homeless. Overseas we have a couple of legions that are under our wing so we also give to them.”
One of the legions most successful campaigns comes from poppy sales for Remembrance Day. In 2022, over $67,000 was raised in Westboro alone. All poppy funds are put into a trust and go directly to veterans to pay for food, prescriptions, home repairs, or emergency shelter. The money can also be used for accommodations and care facilities for veterans.
To celebrate the diamond anniversary, the Legion will be donating $7,500 to 10 different charities in the community. This is in addition to their regular donations to children’s camps, the Ottawa Mission, St. Vincent de Paul, Guide Dogs, the Ottawa Food Bank, and many others.
“In our bank we have two funds: One is our general fund for dances and bar sales. That keeps our lights on. The other fund is our lottery fund. We have a lottery license and we have 50/50 tickets, bingo, and so forth,” said David Kirk, who is part of the legions honors, awards, and membership team. “The lottery fund must be donated to registered charitable organizations.”
Kirk, a former veteran himself who served four and a half years in Germany, said he joined the Westboro Legion to socialize and volunteer.
Legions in Canada date back to 1925, when the first branch opened in Winnipeg as the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League. The objective was to provide strong voices for First World War veterans, and later for those who served in the Second World War.
Today legions serve any veterans including those who served during the Gulf, Korean and Afghan wars. Non-members are also encouraged to join.But as older members pass away, legions are struggling to keep their membership numbers up and doors open. The Westboro Legion currently has more than 260 members.
“We are trying everything we can do to bring in younger members. We have a few coming, a few police have joined us and a few firemen,” said Greg, the Westboro legion president. “It would be a shame if in the years to come the younger people don’t take it over because we will always have veterans here in Canada.”
Legions also play a role ensuring the history of Canada’s wars is not forgotten. The Westboro branch hosts commemorations for the National Day of Remembrance of Vimy Ridge, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the Battle of Britain.
The branch also supports air, sea, and army cadets, and is involved with the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual poppy poster contest which encourages young people to honor veterans through art. High school students apply for bursaries.
Hilda Murphy, who is executive secretary at the branch, said many people are unfamiliar about the role legions play. For the younger crowd it can be a place to play pool, meet new people, and learn through other’s experiences.
“People are excited to know they have a place to come and that we have a very good facility here for them,” she said. “My dad was in the air force so that’s what drew me to the legion initially. Being a part of the activities here in this building I feel like we give a lot out to the public.”
The Westboro Legion is one of the stronger branches in Canada. With a growing membership and active volunteers, it is able to keep serving the community. The branch’s president sees a “tougher” road ahead.
“We need an influx or a new jolt of something,” said Greg. “I’m just hoping that we can continue and hopefully be around for at least another 75 years. But it’s going to be a rough road for sure.”