Cloverdale Legion celebrates 85 years

One of Cloverdale's best-loved gathering spots and longest-serving institutions is throwing its doors open to the public Saturday in honour of its 85th anniversary.

The Ladies' Auxiliary leads the colour party from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 6 in a short procession to Hawthorne Square on 176 St. Tuesday morning.

It’s one of Cloverdale’s best-loved gathering spots and longest-serving institutions.

So it’s surprising to discover not everyone in town knows where the home of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 6 is – and the equally long-serving Ladies’ Auxiliary – is located, or what they do.

That’s why the local landmark is opening its doors to the public Saturday, when it hosts a celebration marking the 85th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The open house is a long overdue opportunity for Branch 6 and the Ladies’ Auxiliary to show off their proud history in Canada and decades of good works in the community – and let people get to know them a little better.

“It’s not an old drinking hole with guys sitting around telling war stories from 50 years ago,” says first vice president Frank Redekop, who says the average age of new members joining is 30. “This isn’t your grandfather’s legion.”

Fittingly, things get underway with a pancake breakfast at 8:30 a.m., along with a barbecue from 1 to 3 p.m. fueling up visitors while they peruse displays showcasing branch history, the upcoming redevelopment plans and much more.

Cloverdale has been home to a RCL branch since 1926, when the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League held its inaugural meeting in the local opera house, but its official charter – and that of the Ladies’ Auxiliary – didn’t come until the following year, in 1927.

“It is a social thing,” Redekop says, pointing to branch’s the full calendar of events, such as hosting a different live band every weekend in the legion’s popular auditorium and watering-hole.

Since its inception, Branch 6 has been at the centre of community life, organizing the annual Remembrance Day service and parade, and pitching in with other local events throughout the year.

“A lot of people say they stay active in the legion and other service groups in the community because it keeps them active. I guess you could say it keeps you young at heart,” says Redekop, a third-generation legion member who joined in 1989.

Of course, there’s an important public service component, too.

“The idea is when you get more active with the legion, you help raise funds for the community,” Redekop says.

Along with supporting veterans and their families, the Cloverdale legion and the Ladies’ Auxiliary have always helped local youth, charities, hospitals, seniors homes and needy families.

The Cloverdale Legion disburses as much as $100,000 a year in charitable funds in the community, from hospital foundations to scholarships and bursaries for seven high schools and other worthy causes.

Membership hit a high of more than 2,100 in 1996 and currently sits at around 1,700, making it the sixth largest in Canada.

Current membership in the Cloverdale Legion Ladies Auxiliary sits at around 42. Nevertheless, the ladies auxiliary gives away an average of $50,000 in donations each year to the hospital foundation, and in scholarships and student bursaries.

Nationally, the Canadian Legion does advocacy work for veterans, while provincial command supports a veterans transition program through a partnership with the University of British Columbia that helps service men and women who are returning home from active duty.

“Right now, people don’t know who we are, they don’t know where we are,” Redekop says, inviting people to come find out for themselves on Saturday. “They don’t know what we do.”

These days, you don’t have to be a veteran to join; Branch 6 offers associate and affiliate memberships. Membership has its benefits – literally, from savings on cable TV packages to BCAA membership discounts and other goodies.

The familiar one-story building at 17567 57 Avenue is merely the branch’s latest home.

Meetings were first held in a shiplap and tar paper shack, then later at A.J. Burrows store in Cloverdale. The third home, a large, two storey hall built in 1947 to house a booming post Second World War membership, burnt down in 1956.

It was rebuilt the following year. An auditorium and kitchen were later add-ons.

The building underwent a major overhaul in 1997 that modernized the look of the lounge, replacing dark panelling with a lighter paint job and adding windows to let in natural daylight.

The new legion hall is the cornerstone of phase one of the City of Surrey’s redevelopment plans for the old Cloverdale Mall site.

On Saturday, there will also be a video presentation outlining redevelopment plans for the new legion.

– The open house is June 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome.