Lest we forget Legion’s early days

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 498
50th anniversary of current building

September 8, 3 to 9 p.m.
3 to 6 p.m. – live music with
5 to 7 p.m. – steak barbecue
7 to 9 p.m. – legion-style horse racing
Open to the public
125 tickets available at $10 each

Story by Casey Lessard

“I know most of the people who were involved in building this Legion,” says Gus Lukings, reflecting on the 50 years since the first part of the Grand Bend Legion was erected. “A lot of these guys fought pretty hard wars. Some of them were up through Italy, a lot of the air force boys. A lot of them didn’t come back.”
The ones that did come back wanted a place to socialize together, and by 1957 had outgrown previous locations hosting their gatherings. The first Legion was held in a cottage on Warwick Street, and the second in a Grand Bend theatre basement. On September 23, 1957, the executive decided to build a dedicated Legion hall that would cost $9800, including $1800 for land purchased from Harold Klopp.
“Most of (the work) was volunteer labour,” says Delight Rath, a ladies’ auxiliary member during the early years. “The electricians and plumbers, all they charged was the material that went into the work.”
“Everything was done for nada,” Lukings adds. “If you had time, you did it.”
“We ran penny bingos and we made a little bit of money,” Rath says. “We catered to meals, and we had to do all our baking at home. We had a little four-burner stove upstairs to serve roast beef dinners. Everything we did, we turned as much money as we could over to the Legion to keep them afloat. I believe that if it weren’t for the auxiliary, there wouldn’t be a Legion today. It was really hard times, and that’s why we had to channel all the money there that we possibly could.”
That’s not to say the men were always appreciative of the women’s role in making the Legion grow. The men occupied the lower level, which was the hall, and the kitchen was upstairs.
“I always held some office in the auxiliary, so one time the girls sent me downstairs to deal with something because they figured I was the bravest with the boys downstairs. As soon as I came down, one of the veterans said, ‘You get the hell back upstairs where you belong.’ And I said, ‘You can go to hell. If it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t be here.’”
Times changed and eventually women were allowed downstairs. Today, Legions across the country face growing concerns about membership and are being forced to open their ranks to include people who have neither military experience nor relatives who do. Membership at the Grand Bend Legion include 19 life members, 94 ordinary (or veteran) members, 201 associate members (relatives) and 27 affiliate members.
“I don’t think you can beat the organization,” Lukings says. “You can take your Legion card any place in the world and you can go into a clean establishment. It means a lot.”
Growing in 1984 to its current size, the Grand Bend hall became better equipped to serve as a community centre in good times and in bad times.
“This is the centre when there’s a catastrophe,” notes Glenn Bryson. “The town installed a generator so when the hydro goes out in town, there’s still heat so people can come in here for comfort or food if they need it.”
For Delight Rath, the memories will linger of friends she loved and lost.
“We had a lot of fun. Sad times and really good times. It’s sad to see so many of them are gone. But I think of all the fun we had. We worked hard, but we made fun out of it.”