Legion members organizing the annual Christmas hamper in December 1952.

Legion members organizing the annual Christmas hamper in December 1952.

It takes a Legion: over 90 years, Cloverdale Legion has raised millions for community

The third part of a four part series looking back at the Cloverdale Legion's 90-year history.

The Cloverdale branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the branch’s Ladies Auxiliary have raised millions of dollars in its 90-year history. Almost all of the money raised has been spent within the community, benefiting everyone from babies to seniors.

In just the past five years, the Legion and Ladies Auxiliary have raised more than $550,000. The individuals and organizations they have supported represent a wide cross-section of the community of Cloverdale, and of Surrey as a whole.

The Legion is much more than a veterans’ organization, although Canadians’ service to their country in the armed forces, in times of war and peace, is at its heart. It has turned into a significant community organization, with connections to many other community organizations. Its members want Cloverdale and Surrey to be the best possible places to live.

Funds raised through poppy sales each year go to the Poppy Fund, which is administered by Dominion Command, the national headquarters of the Legion. Several cadet groups assist with selling poppies and Remembrance Day activities each year, and the Legion in turn supports them. They include the 2277, 2812 and 3300 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, and the 307 Mariner and 151 Cormorant companies of the Navy League of Canada.

Remembrance Day services have grown dramatically in Cloverdale in recent years, particularly since the relocation of the original Surrey cenotaph to the Veterans Plaza area between the Surrey Museum and the Surrey Archives, just off Highway 10. The event attracts many thousands of people each year, up from just a few hundred in the 1980s.

Of the more than $550,000 raised, less than $100,000 actually went directly to support veterans and current service personnel. The Legion will always support and advocate for veterans, and its organization of Remembrance Day events each year is one of the most important ways that it brings the sacrifice of veterans to the minds of later generations.

Legion members know there are many other needs in the community. The branch itself donated $218,800 to hospitals and seniors centres in the past five years, and the Ladies Auxiliary added to that amount.

It also donated more than $100,000 to community groups, and $7,500 to bursaries for high school graduates going on to post-secondary education. The Ladies Auxiliary added another $11,750 for scholarships.

Together the Legion and Ladies Auxiliary have donated almost $7,000 for Christmas hampers, the Cloverdale Community Kitchen and the Surrey Food Bank. Community organizations and activities, such as the Terry Fox Run, B.C. Guide Dogs and Semiahmoo Search and Rescue, also receive regular support.

“What the Legion does is incredible,” says Ron Sveinson of the Branch 6 executive. “We are a community association that supports Cloverdale groups, offers scholarships and supports programs for veterans.”

The Legion currently has 1,046 members, which makes it one of the largest branches in Canada.  It would love to add to that total. Anyone can join – there is no need to be a veteran or descendant of a veteran. Young people are particularly welcome.

Members can enjoy meals and a relaxed atmosphere at the branch’s canteen. It is a good place to socialize, enjoy a game of pool or meet friends. Families are welcome to come in as well, with children welcome until early evening. There is regular entertainment and dancing on Friday and Saturday evenings.

There are also a lot of opportunities to take part in events and help raise funds for community support. Events planned this year included a Robbie Burns Night in January and a Valentine’s Day dinner and dance in February. Still to come are the 90th anniversary events on Sunday, March 19, a special Elvis Elite performance by Elvis lookalike Steve Elliott on March 26, a lunch and show on April 2, a circus event May 5, 6 and 7 and several special events at the time of the Cloverdale Rodeo, over the Victoria Day long weekend.

Later in the year there will be an open house in June, a Father’s Day event, Canada 150th anniversary events on July 1, a children’s costume day and dinner and dance at Halloween, and of course Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

Children receiving gifts from Santa Claus, December 1952. City of Surrey Archives SM210B

One of the more recent focuses for the Legion has been the homeless. The problem of homelessness has been growing in Surrey, as it has in other parts of B.C. and the country.

Of those who are homeless, 11 per cent are veterans. This has caused the Legion to be much more aware of ways it can help out. It is looking at tangible ways to support the homeless shelter cur rently being built in Cloverdale.

Marilyn Chepil, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, says one organization her group has recently focused on is Willow House, which helps women who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.

The Ladies Auxiliary has 62 members, but despite its relatively small numbers, it is a force to be reckoned with at the branch. They do 50-50 draws at the branch on Friday and Saturday nights, and cater for many events at the Legion auditorium.

The LA is currently conducting a raffle to raise funds for the 90th anniversary celebrations, with tickets three for $5 or $40 for a book of 25.

Tickets are available at the branch or by calling Chepil at 604-839-4413.

Legion facilities include a large and spacious lounge area, with an adjacent area for playing pool, taking part in card tournaments and enjoying sports on television. There is a large auditorium and a complete kitchen. The auditorium is available for rentals. It is open for lunch from 12 to 2 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 8 p.m. (4 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays), and will soon be open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Both Sveinson and Chepil have visions for the Legion in the future.

“I would like to see it as a warm, welcoming place for our community, and have the community involved and aware of what we are doing,” Sveinson says. “I’d like to see better awareness that we really care about our community and are working hard to make it better. The community can best support us by  being members.”

“I’d like it to be a warm, friendly place where families feel welcome – Mom, Dad and the kids. I’d like to see that people don’t feel intimidated coming in here, that they see it is a warm, friendly and welcoming place. I’d also like it to be seen as a top-notch restaurant,” says Chepil.


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