The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League

The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League

(York Sunbury Historical Society, Fredericton Region Museum Collection, Author Photo)


The Great War (the war to end all wars) created the problem of returning Veterans in magnified numbers. More than 600,000 served in World War 1, over 60,000 were killed in action; between 117,000 and 137,000 received medical discharges.

Canada and the Canadian Government had never before faced the problem of the mass return of men from war. There was no experience of war pensions and their administration. There was no united voice, no united effort, and no united representation.

Veterans interests were represented by Regimental Associations in scattered, splinter groups. Their effectiveness was limited due to the vastness of Canada and the isolation of each group – each conceiving that their problems were peculiar to themselves and could best be handled and resolved by themselves. New Veterans groups sprang up almost every time a new problem arose.

The Great War Veterans Association (“GWVA”) was the largest and the most influential of the many Veterans groups. Formed in 1917, it comprised of more than 700 branches by 1925. In 1921 they started pressuring for the unification of all the various Veterans groups as being the best way to represent the many Veterans and their dependants. In 1924,

“The Veterans”, the national magazine of the GWVA stated, “until the last Veteran goes to his final resting place – there will be problems arising from War service. But the major work of the GWVA in the future ,will_ be nation building”. Prophetic words, indeed.

The British Empire Service League (“BESL”) was formed in November 1921. Its main inspiration was Field Marshall Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies (including the Canadian Corps). He became the first Grand President of the BESL. – In 1923, he became interested in assisting: the unification of the multiple

Veterans organizations in Canada. The GWVA acted as the Canadian voice of the BESL. In June 1925, the GWVA held its Dominion Convention in Ottawa, coinciding with the visit of Earl Haig.  Haig addressed the convention, appealing to all Veterans groups in Canada to follow the example of the BESL, and amalgamate for more effectiveness

A Unity Conference was held in Winnipeg on November 25, 1925. From this conference emerged “The Canadian Legion of the BESL”, commonly referred to as “The Canadian Legion”. The word “Royal” was not added to the name until 1960, signifying recognition of the Queen.

The Legion is organized in 10 provinces in Canada, 5 US States, and branches are now being organized overseas, where Canadian troops are stationed on a more-or-less permanent basis – e.g., Branch #002 in Lahr, West Germany.

There is no uniformity in the manner in which Commands are divided. Some have Districts and Zones, other have Districts and no Zones, while others have Zones and no Districts. But all have at least one level of authority between the Branch and Provincial Command. Dominion Command, located in Ottawa, is the highest level of authority. Branch 101 is one of 5 Branches within Zone D l, which is one of 5 Zones within District D. There are 9 Districts in the Province of Ontario.

Branches are numbered in the order in which they received their Charter, within their respective Provinces.

(Source: Branch No. 101 in the Province of Ontario, Charter granted on 10 June 1927).

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