The story of the Royal Canadian Legion is woven into the fabric of countless communities across Canada. Our local story begins with a group of returned Great War veterans meeting in the Strathroy Armory, the present site of the town library.
A little over nine years had passed since the war’s end, and the men who had served were struggling. Many had left jobs and businesses and others had put their education on hold in order to serve their country. Those who returned were hailed as heroes and applauded by their fellow citizens. But there was no universal medical care available and no one knew how to deal with ‘shell shock’ (now known as PTSD).
Help was needed.
This historic meeting, held in January 1928, led to the organizing of a Legion branch known officially as the Strathroy Post of the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League.
Sir Arthur Currie, Canada’s most notable military personality and a native of Strathroy, was elected Honorary President.
The first meeting, in April 1928, was held in the IODE Hall on Front Street, above the Standard Bank, the present location of Laurentian Trust.
The Legion soon became a safe place for veterans to share their stories of the War. And the Branch became involved with a number of fundraising social activities in the community, including card games, picnics, dances and raffles. But its principal objective was to improve the well-being of veterans.
With the onset of the 1930s Depression, Legion membership suffered, eventually declining to its lowest level, roughly 30 dues paying members.
Despite the hard times felt by everyone, the Legion was determined to help those less fortunate, especially the transient ex-soldiers who came through the community looking for work and a helping hand.
Probably the greatest threat to Strathroy`s Legion during that time was the possibility that the charter might be lifted and the branch closed. But they persevered, believing that better days were ahead.
An article in the Age Dispatch (Sept. 25, 1930) noted that an unsuccessful attempt had previously been made to form a Ladies’ Auxiliary. Finally chartered in 1931, the Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary brought in much needed money from their many fundraising projects, even as the branch suffered through financial difficulties.
With the end of the Second World War new members joined the Legion, bringing fresh inspiration and ideas. Before long these veterans were filling many executive and committee positions.
And a new meeting place was sought. From mid-July 1945 through February 1948 various pieces of real estate were considered. In March 1948 the Langan Ford garage on Frank Street was purchased for $5,000. (Until recently this was the location of Statham Plumbing & Heating.)
According to the Age, it was to be converted into a Memorial Hall for ex-servicemen. “The Legion has been working on the matter of a Memorial Hall for several years. Originally, they purchased the former Wilson Tourist Home on Metcalfe Street, but disposed of this when it was found that it did not meet the needs of The Legion Branch”.
Then, in October 1948, the Dr. O. R. Newton property at the corner of Front and Emily streets was purchased, and after substantial renovations became the home of Branch 116 for the next 13 years. (It seems likely that the Frank Street property was sold.)
By 1960 plans were afoot for a new building for the branch, under the leadership of the branch executive: Albert Dunsmore (president), Bruce Gibson, H. McLean, Frank Miller, Grant Whiteside and Tom Healy.
The site chosen was the Joe Lamantia property on Metcalfe Street West. Early the next year, plans were approved and excavation began in June. That September 1961, the membership voted to change the name to “Sir Arthur Currie Branch Royal Canadian Legion”. Since that date the local Legion has continued to make significant contributions to our town.
The next time you pass the Legion on Metcalfe Street, think of the history of this outstanding organization and the countless hours that so many dedicated Legion members have spent since its founding to leave this active legacy in their community.
Thanks to Legion Branch 116 members Gloria Mullin, Thelma Bloomfield and Norm Giffen for assisting with this Tale; also to Jamie Medeiros, Bill Groot and Maria Damude.
For information on our activities, visit the Strathroy & District Historical Society website http://sdhsociety.weebly.com/
Access our new Facebook page through our website to learn fun facts, read stories and see photos from our community’s history.