This November is particularly special for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 26.
The Legion is not only commemorating Remembrance Day on Nov. 11; they are also recognizing 100 years of Remembrance Day ceremonies in the city. The first was held in 1920, two years after the end of the first world war.
Since then, not a single ceremony has been missed.
However, it won’t get the ceremony it deserves, as not many will be there in person to commemorate the occasion. Just 50 are allowed at the cenotaph due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, and the legion is discouraging people who are not on the list from coming.
This is a stark contrast to last year’s ceremony, which attracted over 5,500 Kelowna residents.
The 50 include veterans, members of the military, Legion, RCMP, flag bearers, media, and a few others. The ceremony will be live-streamed on Shaw television. The RCMP will be erecting barriers to prevent the public from attending.
Anyone who would like to lay a wreath must do so before 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. Then, those people will be asked to leave the park. The ceremony is set to start at 11 a.m.
Despite the circumstances, Legion Vice President and Poppy Chairman, John Cashin, said that after he realized it would be their 100th ceremony, he knew they had to have a ceremony of some form.
At a recent executive meeting, all 12 Legion board members voted in favour of having a ceremony with restricted access.
“This is just the way it has to be,” said Cashin. “I’m glad we can go ahead with it.”
One hundred years past
Much has happened in the past 100 years. Many Canadian war veterans have come and gone. The ‘In Memoriam’ wall inside Branch 26 lists the names of many. Today, just two World War II veterans are still a part of the Legion; Dick Fletcher (94) and George Barr (93).
During this announcement at the legion on Oct. 29, Cashin presented Kelowna mayor Colin Basran with the first poppy.
“To our veterans, thank you so much for your contributions to our country,” said Basran.
“In light of what’s taking place, we need to find a way to get out to get our poppies and to support our veterans. That is absolutely important, maybe now more so than ever. So please, do what you can, wear your masks, but get out there and get your poppy’s and make your contribution, because these men and women of our country deserve our support.”
November is a month to remember all veterans who fought for their country; those fallen, and those still alive today.
Cashin said he’s been to ceremonies and seen veterans, some over 85 years old, cry because of the memories it brings back.
“To me, we have to remember (that) today, we are here, and we are free because of those that went to war and fought for their country,” he said.
He himself served in the military for 30 years.
“November the 11th was always a very, very emotional day for all those people who were serving at the time,” said Cashin.
A year amid COVID-19
The Kelowna Legion has not been exempt from the challenges felt around the world due to COVID-19.
Cashin said they’re doing ‘not great’. That being said, they’re holding their own.
“Since March it was a long four months until June when we reopened. Then we had a couple of rough months in the where people were so used to staying home that they didn’t come out.”
The Legion has felt some relief since people started using it again.
“They know they’re safe here. We haven’t had any cases or any contacts in our branch. We’re holding our own.”
When they reopened in June, Cashin said the biggest priority was paying the bills. Thankfully he said, they’ve been able to keep that up and make a bit of money on top of that.
“So we’re happy,” he said.
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