Zone Commander Don Swerdfeger is shown with Chesterville Legion president Stephen Grubb during a recent Zone G3 meeting. Swerdfeger offered his congratulations for the 75 years of service to the community provided by RCL Branch 434 in Chesterville. Thompson Goddard Photo

CHESTERVILLE – On Wed., May 8, 1946, a meeting to establish a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) was held in Chesterville and was presided over by the then Zone Commander Dr. A.J. Gardner; with RCL Branch 434 in Chesterville receiving their charter on July 30, 1946. Seventy-five years later, the Chesterville Legion continues to serve veterans and the local community by providing support and assistance as required.

Charter members of RCL Branch 434 included troops who had recently returned from service during the Second World War; they included L.E. Alford, J.A. Morris, L.H. Doering, F. Curran, J.R. Fader, R.H. Fawcett, F. Perrault, L. Anderson, A. Harper, G. Sirvage, E. Barrett, R. Sirvage, J.G. Fleming, L. Racine, D. Curran, W. Harper and F.L. Beckstead. Lyle E. Alford was the first president of the Chesterville Legion, with J.A. Morris, who would later publish The Chesterville Record, served as the first secretary-treasurer.

RCL Branch 434 president Steven Grubb provided information on the history of this important community organization, both in written form and during an interview with The Chesterville Record. He proudly mentioned how the local Legion has continued the legacy of its founders by maintaining a strong presence in Chesterville and ensuring the continued growth of the Branch. Grubb explained how the service to the community began early in its history when a skating rink was constructed at the corner of John Street and Francis Street and sold to the town in 1949 for one dollar.

In 1955, Branch 434 bought back the rink property on John Street from the town and built the first Legion Hall. For many of the older residents, this building now home to Therien Jiu Jitsu, will bring memories of Saturday night dances with midnight barbecue dinners, wedding receptions and Wednesday night bingos. The Legion also served as a stepping off point for the annual Remembrance Day parades to the War Memorial on Victoria Street, which had been built by the Chesterville Legion under the presidency of Carl Merkley in 1957.

The Ladies Auxiliary to the Chesterville Legion was formed in the 1950s and was very active in assisting the Branch with service to both veterans and the local community. Information received from Grubb lists the Charter Members of the LA as Annie Johnston, Susie Cass, Nancy Henderson, Mildred Paul, Clara Barkley, Eileen McMillan and Vera Smith. On Nov. 24, 2000, members of the Ladies Auxiliary decided to close the organization shortly “after celebrating their 50th anniversary,” with many former LA members still serving Branch 434 to this day.

Through the decades since the founding of RCL Branch 434 and the Ladies Auxiliary, some of the community organizations assisted include the Winchester & District Memorial Hospital, the Victorian Order of Nurses, The Christmas Cheer Fund, the CNIB, Heal-the-Children Fund, the Canadian Cancer Society. During the ice storm in January 1998, the Chesterville Legion served as an emergency shelter, but it became clear that a new hall would have to be built.

The present Legion hall opened on Nov. 26, 1999 and includes a large hall, kitchen, Members Room and administrative offices. In the early part of the new millennium, the Chesterville War Memorial was relocated to Veterans Memorial Park on Queen Street. A few years later with the assistance of former Legion president Vern Williamson, the Chesterville Legion erected a Memorial Wall to those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces from the local area and following this, the war memorial which had been located at Nation Valley School near Cass Bridge was relocated to the Veterans Memorial Park.

Prior to the closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the Legion hall was a centre for community events throughout the year and was always ready to lend a supporting hand to community organizations. Throughout the continuing pandemic period, the Legion Hall has been able to support the community in several ways, while honouring the restriction designed to protect people from COVID-19; these include a fundraising drive-thru dinner in aid of the centennial commemorations of the Morewood War Cenotaph, providing a safe space for meetings and training to be held while following COVID-19 precautions, as well as to hold take-out fundraising meals for the Legion itself.

While Grubb acknowledged there have been changes to the services provided to its community, he pointed out that the Chesterville Legion will continue to provide the services needed by our Armed Forces’ veterans and to work with other local organizations to strengthen our community. He commented how the “synergy of the organizations working together helps make our community strong.” 

He explained how during Legion Week, Branch 434 would hold a Community Appreciation Night, which included refreshments, as it was an opportunity to show their appreciation for the work done by these organizations. Also, during Legion Week, the Branch holds a Volunteer Appreciation Night which acknowledges the work and service of members achieving milestone anniversaries. 

During a recent Zone G3 meeting at the Chesterville Legion, Zone Commander Don Swerdfeger from RCL Branch 108 in Winchester commented how the Chesterville Legion has “battled through good and bad times” but the future looks promising for the Branch.

Like the community it serves, Swerdfeger offered his congratulations to the Branch. Grubb commented that plans are being formulated for celebrating the 75th anniversary of RCL Branch 434 in Chesterville, with more information made available in the future.