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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command donates, pledges over $1.1M to veteran programs

- Local Legion Branches, including Essex that has the highest membership in SWO, helped make that possible -

Provincial President, Derek Moore, with the newest puppy recruit, (Viking) into Operation Service Dogs program. (photos courtesy of Brittni Williams).

by Sylene Argent

Recently, the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command proudly announced it would present $1,144,741 in donations and pledges to four separate causes that each support veterans in a different way.

“We were really proud to present [the funding],” Pamela Sweeny, Executive Director for the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Provincial Command, said.

The official event where the donations were presented took place at Ontario Command Headquarters in Aurora on January 19.

Of the funds, $108,000 was presented to the Veterans Transition Network (VTN), which offers group counselling to Veterans and is designed to help them to overcome difficulties.

Even though VTN is based in Vancouver, it has cohorts in Ontario, which helps veterans as they transition from military to civilian life, Sweeny said. This group counselling with peers, she added, helps these individuals face a range of obstacles, from coping with trauma to finding a job.

Sweeny said the number of veterans in Ontario is high.

The funds provided to VPN was raised through the annual Military Service Recognition Book, which invites families to submit a photograph and a blurb about someone who served. The book can be found at

“It is really interesting, reading all of these stories,” she said. The funds support veteran transition programs that may not fall within the Poppy Manual.

In addition, $136,741 was provided to the Good Shepherd Mission, which has a Veterans Housing Navigation Team. She explained the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Provincial Command partnered with this group around ten-years ago, when it was realized there were veterans living on the street.

Sweeny said the Good Shepherd Mission surveyed over 600 individuals going in for a hot meal and discovered around ten percent served in the Canadian Forces.

From there, Good Shepherd Mission created a Veterans Housing Navigation Team. The donation made helps ensure funding to the program, so it can continue.

The Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Provincial Command works closely with them on the “Operation: Leave the Streets Behind” program.

The Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Provincial Command also provided a $400,000 donation to Operation Service Dog, a partnership between Wounded Warriors Canada and Ontario Command & Branches that began in 2018.

Sweeny said this is a tried, true, and proven program that pairs veterans with Post Traumatic Stress with a service dog.

A service dog, she explained, has to be trained for two-years before it can be placed with a veteran, who also has to be trained with their new canine companion. Sometimes, the dogs in training may not pass through the program. This makes the training expensive.

The funds forwarded to the Good Shepherd Housing Navigation Team and the Operation Service Dog was raised in part through Legion Branches that participate in poppy tagging around Remembrance Day. Ladies’ Auxiliary groups at Legion Branches also fundraise through hosting dinners and other fundraisers.

“It is the generosity of the 393 Branches and the Ladies’ Auxiliary in Ontario that allow us to present these cheques,” Sweeny said.

The Ontario Command pledged $500,000 to the Sunnybrook Veterans Cenotaph Project. Over the next five-years, $100,000 will be sent to support the refurbishing of the original Sunnybrook Veterans Centre Cenotaph on Bayview Avenue in Toronto. Representatives received their first of five cheques at the event.

In addition to being refurbished, the area will be designed to be more accessible. Benches will also be added, so individuals can sit and reflect, Sweeny said.

“It is so important for the veterans to be able to go through the gardens and have a moment to reflect on those who didn’t come home,” she said.

Wreath-laying ceremonies are held at this cenotaph during Remembrance Day.

This is Canada’s largest war veterans’ care facility. It was also Canada’s first military hospital, when veterans were returning home after WWII, Sweeny said.

With over 600 members, the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 201) has the largest membership in Southwestern Ontario.

Across the province, Legion membership is up, Sweeny said. To anyone who has served – and their family – the Legion offers a one-year free membership. They can join a holding Branch and then visit various Legion facilities, then have their membership transferred to the Legion they enjoy the most.

As outreach programs that promote comradery, the Legion also offers the “Buddy Check Coffee” program to younger veterans, where they can chat with peers. “Operation Vet Build” invites veterans to gather and build models.

Essex Legion Branch President, Dave Renaud, said though the annual Poppy Campaign, the Essex Legion tries to keep as much raised locally as possible to help area veterans. Donations are also made, based on what the Branch can afford, to support the service dogs and homeless veteran programs.

“Essex is very supportive,” Renaud said, noting through the annual Poppy Campaign, what the Essex Legion is able to collect is huge, compared to some communities that are a lot bigger. “The people in Essex are very generous, and I think that is because they know the money is spent locally, as much as we can, for the people who need it.”

The Essex Legion hosts a lot of functions, community meals, and fundraisers that support veterans, youth groups, sports group sponsorships, and seniors, and community members always get behind those initiatives, Renaud said. “Essex is just unbelievable for getting behind anything going on for the community.”

The Ladies’ Auxiliary at the Essex Branch, he added, also raises funds and donate that money back into the community and the Legion as well.

Anyone who would like to become a member of the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion can stop in and speak to a bar steward for an application. The Executive and membership look at the applications for approval.


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