Legion History

History of Branch 263

In the early 1960’s fifteen WWII Army, Air Force and Navy veterans gathered in an old dilapidated Knights of Columbus building at our current site searching for ways to turn their vision of a Coquitlam Legion branch into reality. They had no money, but they had determination, energy and imagination. Many of them were skilled tradesmen. All of these traits would be needed in abundance to bring their dream to fruition. Having their own Legion branch was important to them. They had fought and won, but they had also lost friends, been wounded in body and mind and witnessed the horrors of war. They wanted a place they could call their own that honoured those memories and while serving other veterans and the community provided a place to relax with their comrades in arms.

So this determined group of men, most of them in their late thirties or early forties began a series of fund raisers ranging from dances to holding draws and selling refreshments in the Holts Banquet House (their first location) until they had enough money for a down payment on the property. They applied to the Legion for a charter and received it in 1962. Then the real work began! Eugene Muirhead (the only surviving founding member as this is written) relates that this focus on building the Legion often had unwanted impacts on families. In his case he worked out of town during the week and then on weekends when one would normally spend time with the wife and children, he was at the Legion. There was a massive amount of work to do. The roof had to be replaced, an addition constructed, the exterior refinished and the interior gutted and redone complete with new plumbing fixtures. All the work was done by donated labour, much of the material was donated or scrounged. Eugene recounts that the first thing he would do on Saturday morning is make a huge batch of sandwiches for the hungry men. While the renovations were going on and they went on for years, the fund raising continued. Eugene relates that things got a lot better when the LA was formed in March of 1963; his wife was now involved in the LA and he didn’t need to make sandwiches anymore!

24All of these men had stories to tell; unfortunately many of the stories have been lost along with the men who lived them. Here are a few of them. Eugene Muirhead joined the Canadian Army in 1939 at the age of sixteen and wound up in the Artillery. He was part of the Canadians forces that battled German troops through some of most dangerous and challenging terrain imaginable and liberated Holland. Like many Artillery men, part of the price he paid for his service was the loss of his hearing. Others lost limbs, like one of the past presidents Al Picard who lost an arm and a leg in the Italian campaign. Gib Renwick had a story that could have been the script for a movie. Captured by the Germans after D Day and imprisoned, he escaped, returned to England and rejoined his comrades to fight to the end of the war. He joined the Vancouver City Police Force upon his return to Canada and being a true Scotsman, became the resident Piper for our Legion. Non-veterans like Lionel Bilodeau an early Affiliate Member made significant contributions to the community by coaching the Legion sponsored Little League team that went on to win the Canadian Championship. While not a founding member, Elsley Foulds’ story combines heroism with romance. As a Canadian Army Medic he met his future wife during the liberation of Holland, survived D Day and served to the end of the war in Germany. Elsley and his wife Yetty have made invaluable contributions to the Legion and the community. They like so many others, exemplify the best of Legion membership. These were (and are) extraordinary men and women who deserve to be remembered.

The old structure endured for about twenty three years but was always a continual maintenance problem. The roof was repaired a number of times but always seemed to leak. Older members remember when there were almost as many buckets catching the down pour as people in attendance during a heavy rainfall. It was time for a new, modern building. In 1985 plans were drawn up and a mortgage obtained with the new building completed in the spring of 1987. During the construction period that lasted about a year, the legion rented a vacant elementary school that was located on the current site of the John B Pub.

In ensuing years there have been many ups and downs. Ben Spring (a Life Member) remembers a time when he played his banjo with his buddies to provide free entertainment during a period of financial stress. He also lent the Legion thousands of dollars during a similar period to keep the doors open. Membership started off modestly at about 300 in the early years when all members were veterans and peaked at about 1200 during the seventies and eighties. Our current membership is about 925. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of our Legion and we are experiencing another challenging period in our history. We will need to innovate and adapt to survive. But based on our legacy of Legion members with determination, energy and imagination, we will succeed.

Peter Epp
June, 2012