The Royal Canadian Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary (LA) is a frequently misunderstood part of the Canadian Legion operations, and, according to Ann Fraser, the commander of the Fraser Valley zone for the auxiliary, it’s time for the organization to attract a new generation of members if they are to survive.
The LA, explained Fraser, is a separate organization from the Legion, although it operates as a support to the Legion and many of its members will be Legion members as well.
“Some younger people, the wives of vets or first responders, or women who are vets and first responders themselves, I think have the impression that we’re just a bunch of little old ladies sitting around knitting and making sandwiches or running cute little strawberry teas. We’re so much more than that, and we need to get that message out if we’re going to move forward,” said Fraser.
The LA in the B.C./Yukon command was established in 1928 and, aside from providing financial support for the larger operation of the Legion, the organization is a tremendous force for charitable giving in local communities, including Hope.
“We help the community in so many ways,” said Barb Clease, Fraser Valley deputy zone commander.
“Of course, we are always here to help the vets and their families first. For example, we’ve raised a lot of money to support the work at the George Derby Centre (a residential care home for veterans). We’ve also raised money for programs like Spinoza Bear and the Veterans Transition/Honour House. But it doesn’t stop there. We do a lot of work for causes in the community that have nothing to do with veterans.”
In fact, the Ladies’ Auxiliary has raised funds for programs as diverse as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Meals on Wheels, the Canadian Cancer Society, and a host of community and youth organizations.
“We fund an annual bursary for high school students looking to further their education,” said Fraser. “And that bursary is separate and apart form the bursaries that the Canadian Legion funds. We’re our own organization.”
But the organization is facing a critical point in its history.
Donna Downs, the president of the Ladies Auxiliary BC/Yukon Council, said that today’s auxiliary has 2,600 members in the region. Ten years ago, it had twice that number.
Executive members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary admit that part of the difficulty in attracting a new generation of volunteers may lie with view that the organization is rooted in the past and not responding to the needs of a new, younger generation of vets and others who are interested in becoming Legion or Ladies’ Auxiliary members.
Fraser takes issue with that perception, and explained that both organizations have dropped the past membership requirement for military service, either directly or through a family member, and are now open to the general public. They are also open to members of both genders and Fraser proudly points out that the president and executive director of the BC/Yukon command are both women.
“We’ve been discussing opening the Ladies’ Auxiliary to men and changing our name to reflect the more inclusive approach to the work we do. I know that some of the older members may not be pleased with that. The truth is that we can’t look back – we need to move forward if we’re going to do the good work we do in the community.”
Beyond the intrinsic value of the organization’s fundraising and charitable work, Clease pointed out that members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary can find companionship, learn life skills that are transferable to everyday life (such as public speaking and food handling certifications) and generally become part of a much larger community of like-minded men and women all working for similar community causes.
“We need young people to step up and let us older members take a step back. I know they’ll have new ideas and ways of doing things, and that’s great. It’s something we’d welcome,” she said.
Anyone interested in joining the Ladies’ Auxiliary can contact the organization by visiting legionbcyukon.ca