It’s a platinum (70th!) anniversary for the Westboro Legion

By Anne Boys-Hope – 

Moored like a boat at the corner of Richmond Road and Winston Avenue, the Westboro Legion stands out amongst the coffee shops and condominiums that surround it. Not a hot spot for foodies or craft beer drinkers, but a home away from home for veterans and their families and a stalwart contributor to good causes in the community. And in case you’re wondering, they are open to the public.

“We’re part of the neighbourhood. Come in here, have a drink, use the Wi-Fi or play a game of pool for 50 cents. We encourage people to consider this as a possibility,” says legion president and Westboro resident, Doug Cody.

The legion’s spacious bar, which is located on the second floor (accessible by elevator), looks and feels like a British pub. It offers the “cheapest beer prices on the block,” along with pool tables, dart boards, and a gallery of military history. Its main floor meeting room is available to rent for weddings, fundraisers, and other events.

The Westboro Legion in 1973, before the upstairs addition.
… the legion today. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

The legion was formed by a small group of veterans in 1948 and was then known as Nepean Branch 480. They met in homes and meeting rooms in the community, eventually purchasing their first property, a barbershop, at 375-381 Richmond Road in 1968. In 1973, they bought and renovated their current location – formerly a grocery store – at 389-391 Richmond Road. (It’s thought that the legion has multiple street numbers in its address because it was originally comprised of multiple buildings.)

The branch was one of many Royal Canadian Legions established by and for veterans after the Second World War. Doug Munroe, past legion president, long-time volunteer, and veteran, saw the need first-hand.

“When the people of the Second and First World War got out of the service, they were dumped on the street. My father was dumped in Halifax. No job and no support,” says Munroe. “So the legion was formed to advocate to the Government of Canada for benefits, and we’re still doing that today.”

Doug and Shirley Munroe have been active volunteers at the Westboro Legion since 1973. Photo by Anne Boys-Hope
Shirley and Doug Munroe have been active volunteers at the Westboro Legion since 1973. Photo by Anne Boys-Hope

Cody, who is also a veteran, says “they had served together for a good cause, and they had a real bond of comradery.”

Today, the legion continues to support veterans, promote remembrance and serve the community. It’s perhaps best known for organizing the annual poppy campaign and Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Westboro Cenotaph. Their ongoing fundraising efforts – from bingo nights to strawberry socials put on by the Ladies Auxiliary – help to support veterans and their families, as well as military organizations like the Military Family Resource Centre, the Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre, Soldiers Helping Soldiers, along with three local cadet groups.

Their fundraising extends to charitable causes across the community, such as special needs camps for children, Meals on Wheels, CHEO Foundation and the Ottawa Food Bank.

Michael Maidment, Ottawa Food Bank CEO, says the Westboro Legion has been a generous donor since 1997.

“Through trivia nights, kitchen parties, and food raisers for our charity, the Westboro Legion has contributed over $12,000 to provide for the 38,400 people who need emergency food every month in Ottawa,” says Maidment. “I cannot think of another organization that has done so much to support veterans, their families, and the community at large.”

And yet, Munroe says that with declining membership, “most branches, including branch 480, are struggling to get enough volunteers to carry on their work.” Membership peaked in the 1980s at about 800 members. Current membership stands at about 300, and those are mostly non-military members. (Legion membership is open to family members of veterans and to Canadian citizens who support the purposes of the legion.)

[Click images to enlarge.]

“Branches are suffering, closing, and amalgamating to try to lessen the burden, and this branch isn’t any different,” explains Cody.

They’ve considered selling up and moving, but say that would mean being less accessible and visible to their members and the community. Instead, they say they’ll work to bring in new members while continuing to welcome their regulars.

“There are a number of members who literally walk to this branch. Who once a week enjoy coming up here socializing. It would not be the same in the neighbourhood if we were gone,” says Cody.

“We’re here, and we want to improve our visibility a little bit. We’re hoping to open people’s eyes to the fact that they can walk in the door.”

True to the sign they’ve got posted outside their door: everyone is welcome at the Westboro Legion.

Check the legion’s website at rcl480.com for events celebrating their 70th anniversary.

 

The Westboro Legion is serving up a new brew, with a twist

By Jacob Hoytema – 

It was the first truly hot day of the year and many pedestrians broke out their shorts and summer dresses for a stroll down Richmond Road. At the Westboro Legion, attendees cooled down by trying out a new lager that gives back to Legion causes.

On Friday, May 12, the Ottawa Valley-based Whitewater Brewing Company hosted a public tasting of their newest beer, the “Legion Lager.” Five per cent of the new beer’s profits will be donated to Canada’s Legions across the country to support veterans’ programs.

Whitewater Brewing Co. representative Tim Gautam stands at the tasting table with Westboro Legion bar manager Eugene Lavigne. Photo by Jacob Hoytema

After Eugene Lavigne, bar manager at the Westboro Legion, opted to bring the new beer in as a regular offering at the bar, he decided to visit Whitewater’s brewery in Cobden, ON. “It just happened that I was going up to North Bay… so I said, ‘well, can I stop in,’” Eugene recalls. “In fact, the first thing when I walked in, there was a lady putting the Legion beer in the fridge.”

Eugene says that he hopes other Legions across the province will join Westboro in selling the new beer at the bar to support the cause. “Five per cent may not sound like much — but if we sell a lot of beer…” he says with a keen glance.

Westboro Legion attendee Kelly Rusk stopped by to sample the new Legion Lager. Photo by Jacob Hoytema

Being a lager, the new beer is a lot lighter than most of what comes out of the craft brewing scene. Whitewater describes it as “easy-drinking” in their advertising. Chris Addison is a craft beer enthusiast from central Ottawa who dropped by the Westboro Legion for the tasting in a Whitewater Brewing shirt. “It was better than I was expecting,” he says. “I prefer IPAs, something a bit stronger and darker, but something like this I could drink all day long,” he says.

Whitewater representative Tim Gautam says that aiming for that lighter taste was intentional on the brewery’s part.

“We created a beer that hopefully meets the taste standard of what people are used to drinking,” he says. “The reason it’s a lager is because it’s the closest beer style to what Legion members are typically drinking.” Indeed, even on the day of the tasting, many Legion-goers were sticking to more mainstream beers such as Labatt’s or Coors.

“It’s more about education, trying the product,” Tim says. “Why not drink a great product that’s local, that’s helping create awareness about the Legion, and also they benefit from the proceeds?” He also described the Legion Lager as a potential “gateway beer” for those who might be interested in easing into other craft brews.

The lager is currently available in Ottawa at the Westboro Legion in tall cans. Whitewater says the beer will soon be available at the LCBO and Beer Store, as well as on tap at other liquor licensees. Tim says that the eventual goal “is to hit every single Legion” across the country.

Everyone’s a winner at the Westboro Legion’s Trivia Challenge for Charity

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Congratulations to everyone who came out to the Westboro Legion’s Trivia Challenge for Charity on February 24! 24 teams and 132 players participated. The top four teams – Feline Fine, The Clocktower Dropouts, Two Turntables & A Microphone, and CSIDunno – earned a total of $1,100 in donations to their respective charities.

The Legion posted the above photo of two other teams – Beautiful Ponies and I Thought This Was Speed Dating – with the following caption on their Facebook page: “If a photo could capture the generosity of spirit and joie de vivre of those who play in our Trivia Challenge for Charity tournament, this would be it! Their teams may not have won, but they are all winners in our eyes.” We agree. Photo by Helen Flaherty

Westboro Legion: supporting veterans, and so much more

By Bhavana Gopinath – 

Every year, on the first Sunday of May, the Westboro Legion organizes a ceremony to recognize the sacrifices of the members of the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force who died in the Battle of the Atlantic. On May 1st this year, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony starting at 1:30 p.m. followed by a parade at the cenotaph in Byron Park near Golden Avenue and Richmond Road. Attendees will include veterans and members of the Legion, members of the cadet corps that the Legion sponsors, representatives from community organizations and the City, and members of the public. The names of ships that sank and squadrons that lost planes in the Battle will be read out. There will be time for socializing after the ceremony from 3:30 p.m., with a potluck meal at 5 p.m.

Photo from last year’s Battle of the Atlantic wreath-laying ceremony. By Claudine Wilson
Photo from last year’s Battle of the Atlantic wreath-laying ceremony by Claudine Wilson

This battle (from 1939 to 1945) was the longest continuous military campaign of World War II. The Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping vessels were in conflict with German air force and navy airplanes and warships. From a relatively small base, Canadian forces ramped up their strength and capabilities to meet their main objective — the protection of shipping in dangerous conditions over thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean. The outcome of the war depended on this effort. Canadian forces escorted more than 25,000 merchant ships  from North America to British ports, delivering approximately 165 million tonnes of cargo to the United Kingdom. Canadian warships and aircraft sank or shared in the destruction of some 50 U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic.

The toll was heavy: the Battle of the Atlantic took a vast majority of the approximately 2,000 members of the RCN who died in World War II. 752 members of the RCAF died in maritime operations due to enemy action as well as accidents caused by the harsh environment.

The sacrifices of Canadian military personnel in this battle and in several conflicts over the decades enable us all to enjoy our freedom. It is important to remember these sacrifices and support the organizations that help our veterans.

Information about the May 1st ceremony is available at rcl480.com.


A full calendar at the Westboro Legion

The Westboro Legion Branch 480 of the Royal Canadian Legion has a roster of activities as part of its mandate to support veterans and contribute to the community. The Legion conducts events commemorating three major anniversaries in Canada’s military history: Remembrance Day, Battle of Britain and Battle of the Atlantic.

According to Westboro Legion branch president, Doug Cody, the Legion has planned several activities to benefit veterans as well as the larger community over the next few months. For instance, there is a country music jamboree on May 15 to raise funds for Ottawa historian Norm Christie’s “Help Recover Our Vimy Heroes” initiative. Doug hopes to raise $1000 towards Norm’s goal of raising $110,000 to recover the bodies of 44 Canadian Vimy Ridge soldiers from unmarked graves in Northern France and bring these veterans to rest.

The Legion also hosts social events for Christmas, New Year and other occasions. Wednesday night bingo events are popular, and are likely to become even more so, with the imminent introduction of “progressive” bingo*. In progressive bingo, the jackpot does not change. What improves is a player’s odds of winning because an additional bingo ball is added the following week. As of June 1, the big win will be $500, with the “consolation” being $200.

The Westboro Legion’s “progressive bingo” is a popular event. In progressive bingo, the jackpot does not change. If the jackpot is not won that night, the consolation prize is awarded. Each week, a player’s odds of winning the jackpot improve with the addition of an extra number (in other words, a bingo ball) until the week the jackpot is won. The following week, the number of bingo balls reverts to 52. Here’s more good news: on June 1 the big win will climb to $500 and the “consolation” will be $200.
There are also trivia challenges for charity and open stage nights on Friday evenings. Newer activities are being planned to attract more members of the community to the Legion’s facilities for their entertainment activities.

Doug points out that you don’t have to be a veteran to be a member of the Legion or to use its amenities. The Legion’s conveniences include a lounge to socialize in and watch sports on TV, rooms to host your next party, and games like pool and darts.

Support from the community is important as funds raised through the Legion’s activities and facilities go to charity and toward helping veterans get their pensions, benefits and other entitlements. Dedicated service officers in the Legion try and connect any veteran who needs help to the right department or person in the government to help them to access their entitlements, or to support them and their families in any way possible.

“The Legion does good work,” says Doug.

Support from the public in any form— whether it’s hosting an anniversary party at the Legion or helping out during the Legion’s Remembrance activity—is important and welcome.

Veterans gather for 
annual dinner at the Westboro Legion

By Judith van Berkom –

Imagine if you woke up to find your world changed beyond recognition by an atomic bomb; everything and everyone familiar, gone. Houses replaced by rubble, and a quiet that could be felt. John Franken, who worked nights in the mines of Nagasaki, woke to such a world on August 9, 1945.

“There’s a room full of stories here,” says Dean McCuaig, a volunteer with the Westboro Legion.

The Veterans’ Dinner is an annual event at the Westboro Legion. Veterans dine free of charge, and the general public is invited to share a meal – and maybe a story or two – with a veteran.

The crowd usually includes WWII veterans, retired peace keepers, veterans of the Korean War, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. Approximately 100 veterans with their spouses and families gathered in the Legion on October 20, 2015.

Accompanied by a classical string trio from Lisgar Collegiate High School, the evening started at 4 p.m., giving veterans and their families time to settle in, have a drink, and chat with fellow veterans. Dinner followed at 5 p.m., and the evening was piped out at 6:30 p.m. by piper, Evelyn Brunton.

John Franken, now 93, was one of the dinner guests.

Born on the island of Java, Indonesia, the former Dutch West Indies, Franken remembers how quickly everything changed during that chaotic time. Japan invaded Borneo and less than three months after the first attacks, the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces. Between 1942 and 1945, Japan occupied Indonesia.

John Franken, Japanese POW and survivor of Nagasaki. Photo by Al Goyette
John Franken, Japanese POW and survivor of Nagasaki. Photo by Al Goyette

Franken, whose ship was captured by the Japanese, became a prisoner of war. Initially, he and fellow POWs were put to work converting schools into brothels. Franken witnessed girls as young as 14 being picked off the streets to serve as ‘Comfort Women’ for Japanese soldiers. He volunteered to work in the coal mines because he got to have a shower every day.

‘Tea at the Embassy’ is an award-winning documentary made about Franken’s life during the war, and later, as an activist, relentlessly lobbying the Japanese government to apologize for war crimes committed during WWII.

“The atomic bomb saved my life,” says Franken. He emerged from a night at work in the coal mine in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 to the after effects of the atomic bomb. The British army liberated the POWs a day later. He is the only remaining Canadian Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor. In 2007, he was awarded the Netherlands Medal of Orange-Nassau by Queen Beatrix (comparable to being knighted). His wife, Sonja, passed away in 2014.

The Legion dinner was a simple meal of Shepherd’s pie with cake and coffee for dessert. The annual event is an opportunity for veterans to come together and socialize with fellow veterans and their families.

“It was the Branch 480 Legion Ladies Auxiliary who provided the meal for the Veterans Dinner, and they take pride in doing so,” says McCuaig. “It allows us to keep the costs low as there is no cost to the Veteran and his/her guest. Costs are covered by the Poppy Fund.”

Sherry and Joe Thompson attended the dinner. Joe Thompson served for 27 years and currently lives at The Perley and Rideau Veterans Health Centre.
Sherry and Joe Thompson attended the Veteran’s dinner. Joe Thompson served for 27 years and currently lives at The Perley and Rideau Veterans Health Centre. Photo by Al Goyette

Although the situation for veterans seems to be improving – there’s recognition of the psychological effects of serving in a war, of the importance of providing help to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders – dinner conversation turned to the plight of veterans living on the streets of Ottawa.

“Vets are building houses for vets. It shouldn’t be that way,” says one distressed veteran. “I hope our new government recognizes the problems and takes them off the streets,” he adds.

Veterans of WWII and the Korean War were given housing and paid to go to school when they returned from the war. As one of the veterans explained: “there was room for housing and jobs back then, but now we are in a stagnant time. We have trouble finding jobs for our young people, let alone for veterans.”

 

Ferrets and friends gather in Kitchissippi

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Jessica Lough of the Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa (FRSO), with her ferret named Nacho, official “spokesferret” for FerretFest. Nacho “lives to cuddle.” Photo and story by Claudine Wilson.

Several days a week, Jessica Lough makes her way to work at the Westboro Legion upstairs bar, but on Saturday April 12, she headed there for another reason: to help with FerretFest 2014.

As a board member of the Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa (FRSO), Jessica and other volunteers welcomed ferrets, their owners and numerous fans to an afternoon of ferret fun with bowling, sheep tipping, tube races, and a great bag escape. Between competitions, many of the critters goofed around in the play zone, much to the delight of children and adults alike.

Kitchissippi resident Maia Cody was on hand to support her colleague, and to share in some of the fun.

“Ferrets are wonderful pets,” says Cody. “They’re hypoallergenic, friendly, intelligent, and love to play.”

Nacho, one of Loughs’s two pet ferrets, was the official “spokesferret” for the event. Once it was over, he resumed his duties tweeting for FRSO @FerretRescueOtt.

“This was our first time holding the event at the branch,” says Lough, “and it was the best yet for both attendance and fundraising.”

Participants enjoyed meeting up with old and new ferret friends and their human companions. Many also were eager to spread the word about the joys of owning these “goofy” pets.

FerretFest 2014 attracted 97 human and 35 ferret guests, and raised $1,500 to help Ottawa’s only ferret rescue group find safe haven for unwanted, abused, and abandoned ferrets.

For more information about Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa go to ferretrescue.ca.

Westboro Legion’s Trivia Challenge for Charity

Submitted by Claudine Wilson

Thirteen teams competed in the Westboro Legion’s Trivia Challenge for Charity on February 28, and after the last of the 100 questions had been asked and answered, the three teams that came out on top had won $600 for their charities.

Team “Banana Stand” took top prize, winning a $300 donation for the Ottawa Food Bank. To reward them for their skill and generosity, the six won back their $50 registration. The other winners were “Jefferson Death Star” ($200 for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) and “For the Puppies” ($100 for the Ottawa Humane Society).

It was the branch’s fourth and most successful tournament, and this was due in part to the involvement of Ottawa Trivia League founder Paul Paquet.

“Having Paul as our quizmaster helped us tremendously,” said branch president Doug Cody. “We doubled the number of participants.”

While the event attracted new players, many familiar faces were back, including Myfanwy Davies, an Ottawa resident who was a recent contestant on Jeopardy. It was a testament to the talent in the room that her team was edged out for third place.

Kitchissippi Councillor Katherine Hobbs was one of the new faces at the Trivia Challenge. A member of the Camp Misquah team, she looked beyond to the big picture. “We are fortunate to have the Westboro Legion in our community,” she said. “It’s not only a place to come together for fun social events like the trivia challenge but also a place that cares and contributes to the community.”

The 66 players shared that spirit. They wanted to win for their causes but also were out to have fun. That showed in their team names. In fact, if there had been a prize for most creative one, the Snidely Whiplashes probably would have won it.

Remembering our veterans

By Kristy Strauss –

Despite chilly temperatures, mixed with rain and snow, the Westboro community gathered at the local cenotaph to pay tribute to our veterans on Remembrance Day.

Doris Jenkins, formally of Richmond road, attends Remembrance Day 
ceremonies on behalf of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.
 Photos by Kate Settle.
Doris Jenkins, formally of Richmond road, attends Remembrance Day 
ceremonies on behalf of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.
 Photos by Kate Settle.

The Westboro Legion hosted the annual ceremonies on November 11, starting with a parade – featuring veterans and the sea, army and air cadets band – that marched from the legion to the cenotaph. Approximately two hundred people came together to watch the service, which started with a performance by students at Churchill Alternative School.

The event also included a wreath laying by veterans and Westboro legion branch members, as well as Kitchissippi Councillor Katherine Hobbs and Mayor Jim Watson on behalf of the city.

Brent Craig, of the Westboro Legion, was the master of ceremonies and said remembering and honouring veterans goes beyond just one day.

“Although this is Remembrance Week throughout Canada, we will continue to honour and remember the sacrifices which have been made every day of the year,” he said.

Craig added that the service pays tribute to veterans, but also to the ones closest to them.

“We remember not only the men and women who fought for our country, but the many loved ones and friends who stayed behind – forced to wonder and worry for many days and nights,” he said.

Westboro Legion member and resident Barbara Pharand marched in the parade with her husband, Richard, and said she often thinks about her parents on Remembrance Day.

While Pharand was born in Canada, her parents were from Germany and lived under the Nazi regime in Berlin.

“My thoughts go back to the Second World War, and what my parents went through,” Pharand said, adding she heard many stories growing up about what it was like to live in Berlin at that time.

Her family was one of many who hid people from SS officers.

”My dad had to be a Hitler youth, he had no choice,” she said. “But at the same time, the family was hiding people.”

Pharand, who was born in Canada during the Korean War, said she often thinks of her family and the many others who displayed this kind of bravery and courage during the Second World War on Remembrance Day.

“It’s a different side to what’s written in the history books,” she said. “It’s a side that should be said.”

While she reflects on her family’s actions on Remembrance Day, Pharand also has hopes for the future.

“It would be great if we could have peace,” she said.

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