Photo by Chung Chow
There was a time, not so very long ago, when the Army, Navy and Air Force Club was among the hotspots in Richmond.
As recently as the 1990s, when B.C. Packers was still operating in Steveston, “you had to line up to get in,” recalls Unit 284 president Ian Parker.
But times have changed, and today the veterans’ club is a shadow of its former self. The majority of members are now 40-plus, and the club no longer attracts the younger population in the kind of numbers that once typified the crowd.
Do not misunderstand, however. Members are still as community-minded as they have ever been.
Upwards of $70,000 is raised annually from traditional meat draws, all of which is donated to support various charities and sports groups. And the club also welcomes the public to drop by.
Parker says the original intent of the club was to create “a social environment” for people who survived the war.
A year after being granted its charter in 1946, the club purchased the Japanese Fisherman’s Hospital at Unit 284’s current site at 11900 No. 1 Road in the heart of Steveston. While that building burned down in 1956, members, led by the ladies auxiliary, kept the charter strong and were able to rebuild and re-open a new clubhouse in 1959.
ANAF is the oldest veteran and community service organization in Canada with more than 27,000 members and 74 units. Queen Victoria first gave a charter to create the veterans unit in Montreal in 1840. It was originally composed of volunteers who answered the call of the Canadian government for active service during the Irish Fenian Raids of 1860, 1870 and 1871. Established as a meeting grounds for army veterans who were at the end of their tours and home to protect the colonies, the organization grew to include both the navy and air force by the end of the Second World War.
The Royal Canadian Legion was born directly out of the First World War, said Matthew McBride, chair of Richmond’s Branch 291 Remembrance Day Committee.
“It was inspired by Field Marshal Earl Haig, who was the leader of the Commonwealth Forces in France at the time, to serve the returning soldiers and provide a gathering place for the veterans,” he said.
The Canadian Legion was founded in Winnipeg in 1925 as the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League. It was incorporated by a special act of parliament the following year, growing steadily through the 1930s and then expanding rapidly following the Second World War. In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II granted the legion royal patronage and it became the Royal Canadian Legion.
Today, the legion continues to be dedicated to improving the lives of veterans, including serving Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, and their families.
“So long as we have men and women in arms, we need to have organizations prepared to back them up and support them once they move into civilian life,” said McBride. “When people are coming out of the service today, a lot of them don’t want anything to do with the military mindset. But over time they come back and need a place to gather and a place to say ‘OK, now I feel at home.’ ANAF and the legion provide that and I think it’s very valuable.”