How the Royal Canadian Legion stayed relevant in 1973

On Remembrance Day 1973, the CBC reported on efforts by the Royal Canadian Legion to keep the doors open by welcoming the sons and daughters of veterans to become members.

Veterans were getting older, so the club opened up its membership

Legions extend membership beyond veterans in 1973

49 years ago
Duration 2:36
On Remembrance Day 1973, CBC reports on a new policy by the Royal Canadian Legion to allow sons and daughters of veterans to become members.

It was a place to play cards, shoot some pool, or dance with a date while a live band performed.

With 300,000 members, the Royal Canadian Legion — a club for war veterans — was one of the largest service organizations in Canada. 

"In some small communities, it's the centre of all social activity," said the CBC's Larry Stout in a Remembrance Day report in 1973. "The only place where old pals can get together to share a beer."

But the Legion was pondering the future of its 1,900 branches.

Members were nearing 60 

Live music with dancing was another feature in many Legion halls. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"In the past, membership has been restricted to veterans," said Stout. "But now the organization is looking for new blood."

Three months earlier, the Legion had opened up its membership to the sons and daughters of veterans.

As if to drive the point home, the CBC camera captured a young couple dancing to a live band alongside their more mature counterparts inside a Legion branch.

Some 6,000 such memberships had already been sold.

... but they weren't telling war stories 

The Legion wasn't typically a place where old men sat around talking about war, said a spokesman. More likely they were playing pool, as seen above, or "hashing out local issues." (CBC News/CBC Archives)

The notion that the Legion was a place for old veterans to trade war stories wasn't accurate, said Stout.

"It's too often regarded as just another drinking club," he said. "Where old soaks talk about battles of the past."

Bob McChesney, a Legion official, took issue with that perception.

"I would really like to have ... a tape recorder inside a Legion hall," he said. "I'd be surprised if you had 10 minutes on a 10-hour tape, and any part in that was talking about wars." 

In addition, pointed out Stout, the Legion supported community endeavours like kids' hockey, scholarships and affordable seniors' housing.

"So the Legion isn't deteriorating," said Stout. "Its veteran members will fade away, but they don't intend to take the Legion with them."

In 2022 the Legion is still active, overseeing the annual Remembrance Day poppy campaign. According to their website, the Legion now serves "all veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, and their families." 

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