The annual Royal Canadian Legion poppy campaign is now underway.
The poppy is to be worn from the last Friday in October until the end of the Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11.
Earl Gagnon joined other volunteers at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 599 West Ferris, who were busy filling poppy boxes to be distributed to businesses in the West Ferris area of North Bay.
“I retired as a warrant officer 1st class. I spent 30 years in the service across Canada. I was here in North Bay twice. We did a lot of things, but most of it was on the radar and watching the aircraft and making sure everything was identified.”
Among the medals he wears on his Legion blazer is a bright red poppy, a sign of remembrance.
“I am proud to wear the poppy. My dad was overseas. He was a foot soldier. He came back home just after the war. He told us about a lot of good things that happened, but he wouldn’t tell us about the bad stuff,” said Gagnon.
“The poppy is a symbol of remembering the fallen and the people who served and were overseas. And now that they are back, a lot of them need help. This is one way of helping,” said Gagnon who wants the young children to understand the sacrifices made for freedom.
“We have a gentleman, a former principal who goes to schools across the district and he gets them making posters and writing stories. He is in uniform when he goes. We also offer three or four bursaries to students."
Len Davis spent 36 years in the Canadian Air Force.
A member of the West Ferris Legion, it is important for him to actively support the poppy campaign.
“I have been doing it for about 12 years now, ever since I have been a member of the Legion. I take a lot of pride in it,” said Davis.
“Most of the businesses that deal with the public, we have placed one or two boxes there. The days of going door-to-door are pretty much over. Some of the smaller Legions outside the city do it, but they find it is getting harder,” said Davis.
“All money from the poppy campaign goes into a separate account. It is separate from the Legion account entirely. As a matter of fact, they can’t touch it. It is basically for veterans and if the veteran is not around, then his spouse and family. It is to support the ones who aren’t doing so well.”
The money helps in many ways.
“Like paying their rent, buying food gift certificates, some of them have medical appointments out of town, so we’ve helped with gas and restaurants along the way so they can get there and back. Things like wheelchairs and canes. We work very closely with Veteran’s Affairs as well.”
Meredith Park is the chair of this year’s poppy campaign at the West Ferris Legion.
“It is important to respect and remember those who have fallen and those who came back, some with serious injuries. They have to be remembered as much as those who have fallen,” said Park.
‘My dad served in World War II, and my uncle served in the British air force, the RAF. He was the navigator, radio operator on a Lancaster. He flew missions into Europe, and he survived. So, I like to say that I come here to help with the campaign to remember them.”
The branch is also reaching out to retailers who might be interested in purchasing a wreath.
“So, it is not only the poppies, but we also have the wreaths available. Some customers we have every year, but the ones who aren’t we encourage them to buy a wreath,” said Davis.
Legion members will be set up at the North Bay Mall Monday through Saturday from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
“We find we get to talk to people a lot. We’re trying to encourage people to wear their Legion uniform, and we’re asking the cadets to come down,” said Davis.
“There are people who stop by and talk. We keep a lot of history there, some papers from way back in the First World War and so forth. A lot of the ones that are really proud talk about their grandfather being in the war, or uncle or father.”
Davis says it is important to get the younger generation involved in the campaign.
“The majority of Legions are made up of senior people like myself. The average age in our Legion is 70 years old.”