By the end of World War I, there were a total of 15 veterans’ groups and a number of regimental associations representing former service members in Canada. Despite their common goal – to help returned servicemen in need – their efforts were fragmented and largely unsuccessful. In 1925, an appeal for unity led to the formation of the Dominion Veterans Alliance. The Legion was founded in November of that year in Winnipeg, Manitoba as The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League (BESL). It was incorporated by special Act of Parliament, Charter issued in July 1926.
The BESL was originally founded in 1921 with the same ideals and was a coalition of five nations’ veterans organizations – Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Today it is known as the Royal Commonwealth Ex-services League (RCEL) with 57 member organizations from 47 Commonwealth and former Commonwealth nations.
The principal objectives of the Legion were to provide a strong voice for World War I veterans and advise the government on veterans’ issues. These goals were maintained in the years leading up to 1939. The Legion quickly became a persuasive advocate for improved pension legislation and other benefits for veterans and their families, including: treatment and appeals procedures, returned soldiers’ insurance, and help for those suffering from tuberculosis.
Passage of the 1930 War Veterans’ Allowance Act was a major breakthrough, winning financial assistance for thousands of men who had not been eligible for disability pensions even though they had been incapacitated by war service.
The Legion Prepares for Second World War Veterans
The Second World War brought an influx of new demands and the Legion increased efforts to help veterans and returned service members, provided education support, in-theatre comfort, canteens, entertainment and reading material for those serving abroad and at home, as well as correspondence courses to help them on their return to civilian life.
Most importantly, from the outset of war, the Legion began to prepare for the returning troops. Financial compensation, clothing allowances, pensions, medical treatment, preference in the civil service, vocational training, land settlements were all routinely arranged and provided. To this day the Legion maintains a nation-wide network of professionals helping veterans, ex-service members and their families to secure the pensions and benefits to which they are entitled.
Adjusting to the Times
On October 14, 1949, The Great War Veterans’ Association of Newfoundland amalgamated with the Canadian Legion of the BESL.
During the Korean War, the Legion again offered support and comfort to troops while continuing efforts at home to improve assistance for veterans. Following the Korean War, the Legion became increasingly involved in community service.
In 1960, the Queen gave consent to attach the word “Royal” to the Legion’s name.
A new Veterans Charter entitled The Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act implemented 1 April 2006 (C-45) has made the commitment more complex as claims will be adjudicated under both the old and new acts.
The Legion has never faltered in its efforts to improve the lot of veterans and of ex-service members. Indeed, many of the benefits they enjoy today are largely due to the persistence of dedicated Legion members at all levels of the organization. These include the Veterans Independence Program, spousal benefits, appropriate recognition for Dieppe and Hong Kong Veterans, creation of the Pension Review Board and many others.
From RCL DOMINION COMMAND