While legions across Canada will fill with veterans of all ages on Remembrance Day, some younger veterans say it isn’t the place for them during the rest of the year.
“I know that the effort of the Royal Canadian Legion is to better the lives of veterans and it should feel like home, but I don’t have a strong connection with them,” said Jessica Wiebe, a 28-year-old veteran who served in Afghanistan for six months in 2008.
She likes going to the legion on Remembrance Day, having a few drinks with older veterans and listening to their stories — but feels it’s a little inaccessible to the younger generation.
Bridging the age gap
“The legion needs to find a way to bridge the gap between the older generation and the younger generation,” Wiebe told CBC’s Information Morning.
She feels the legion needs to offer more events that are interesting and appealing to the younger generation. Wiebe has been out of the military for two years, but says it’s easier for serving members to meet up with friends at the mess hall.
Wiebe has found her own way to connect with other veterans by teaching an art class at the Military Family Resource Centre. It’s something she’s been doing for the past two years.
“It’s a safe space where we can share out stories the same way the legion is that safe space where you can share your stories with people who understand your experience.”
Membership not exclusive to military
Cole Fouillard, who served with Wiebe in Afghanistan and is now a reservist in Edmonton, said he thinks the main reason younger veterans aren’t signing up to be legion members is because membership is no longer exclusive to military members.
“Any civilian can sign up for a legion membership, be part of that legion,” he said, adding it allows them to “be a deciding factor in that legion and how it progresses forward, and haven’t served a day in the military themselves.”
Fouillard thinks restricting who can be a member would boost membership. Locals could still come out and support the legions, he said.
Open door policy, legion says
Steve Wessel, the president of the Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, said about 30 to 35 per cent of the legion membership consists of serving military members or retired veterans.
That’s because older veterans are dying.
“The legions have to be upheld and run by those who are willing to take over the role of those that have gone,” said Wessel.
“They just happen to be, in a lot of cases, the sons and daughters of those who stood up those legions.”
Wessel, who is the son of a Second World War veteran, said he was encouraged to become involved in the legion from an early age.
He also doesn’t agree with Wiebe’s comment that legions feel somewhat inaccessible to younger members.
“We have a completely open door policy to our modern day, our younger veterans,” he said.
‘Not adverse to changing’
There is a group of younger veterans who meet at the command headquarters, Wessel said, and legions are trying to make as much space and resources available to them as they can.
One day these veterans could possibly make a legion of their own, Wessel said.
He also encouraged younger veterans to speak to other legion members on Remembrance Day about the type of programs they’d want at legions.
“Our legions have changed throughout the years and we’re not adverse to changing again.”
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