Originally formed as the British Empire League, Coleman was issued the first charter in Alberta on October 6, 1926.
Coleman had a Branch of the Great War Veteran’s Association (GWVA) in the 1920’s which met at various locations around town but did not have a permanent home. The Branch held armistice commemorations, smokers, and concerts at various venues. Members were formally issued a Legion Charter designating them as Branch 9 on October 6th, 1926. It was the first Charter issued to an Alberta Legion by Dominion Command in Ottawa making Coleman, Alberta’s oldest and longest running Legion.
The nine chartered members included William Graham, Robert Parry, and John Richards, all of whom had served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The Charter was signed by Sir Percy Lake, First President of the Dominion Executive Council.
The new Branch had a find a new club premises and establish a memorial for their fallen comrades. Branch members struggled for many years, meeting in such places as the council chambers, a community hall, and the Oddfellow’s Hall. In 1936 a serious fundraising effort was mounted to build their own premises with the support of the Ladies Auxiliary which was chartered in April of 1935 and organized banquets, dances, and a massive fund raising carnival in 1936.
In 1939 a building was finally acquired and renovated by members and their sons. Ironically, the sons who helped haul rocks away would soon become Veterans themselves. The Hall was officially opened on New Year’s Day 1940, but Members’ excitement with finally achieving a home of their own was tempered by the reality of the developing war.
The Branch pledged full cooperation to the Dominion Government and the Empire. This included support for the Soldiers Overseas Comfort Fund which included the Ladies Auxiliary preparing parcels that included a two pound fruit cake, 1.5 lbs. of home-made candy and nuts, gum, laces, a pair of socks, and ten pieces of lump sugar.
In November 1948 the Branch’s second main goal of establishing a Cenotaph was achieved. The 1931 bronze plaque with the seventeen names of those lost in the First World Was was placed on it. After World War Two, a plaque with the names of fourteen Veterans lost during the war was added to the structure. The Cenotaph was eventually faced with stone taken from Waterton National Park where one of the mountain areas is called Vimy Ridge. In 1954 a soldier standing guard was added to the top.
A large addition, including a new kitchen, office, meeting, and banquet rooms, was made to the existing Legion building in 1986. In 2011 Coleman Branch 9’s celebrations of its 85th anniversary included a special acknowledgement of Clarence Morrow whose 44 years of service had been recognized with the Legion’s Meritorious Service Medal in 1993. His then remarkable 62 years of service was recognized by Dominion Command awarding him its highest honour, the Palm Leaf.
Coleman Legion Branch, Alberta’s first chartered Legion, continues to serve its community and support local charities.
As written and submitted by John Kinnear for Alberta-NWT Command Branch History Book, 2015
An outcome from the end of World War I, was the formation of The British Empire League, created as an advocacy group ensuring returning veterans were given the care and respect that they deserved in order to reintegrate back into their community’s. Canada’s first BESL Branch was first formed in Winnipeg in November, 1925, and officially chartered in July, 1926.
A group of men from Coleman were quick to join the call with the creation of Alberta’s very first branch, Coleman No. 9! According to legend, the number 9 was selected to represent each of the nine founding members. Provincial Command dispels that theory by insisting that branches were given a number in the order applications were received, although it is confirmed that Coleman’s application was the first one granted a charter. Four more branches are chartered on October 8, 1926; Lethbridge, Vermillion, Edmonton and Strathmore.
Whatever my be the actual story, our members choose to believe that the number 9 does indeed represent our founding members! Dues for this veteran’s only club are $3.50 per year.
Fundraisers are organized, such as penny carnivals and picnics, and are a huge success. A building is purchased in 1936, that is originally believed to be a warehouse and possibly a retail store, and is eventually transformed into a Legion Hall, as it presently serves today! Club members continue to work hard over the next four years, to renovate their new club gathering hall.
January 1, 1940 marked the official grand opening of the long awaited clubhouse with about 50 men in attendance. The club applied to AGLC for permission to open the club to show eleven paintings, created by Fred Founds, depicting the Great War in cartoon style art. Mr. Founds later joins The Home Veterans Guard and departs after a gathering at the Legion of 150 people.
A full size snooker table is donated by Albert Sapeta, proprietor of the Grand Union.
In Sept., 1940, the Legion started a Soldiers Overseas Comfort Fund to raise funds to send comforts such as cigarettes, fruit cake, candy and socks to our soldiers. Fred Founds designs a wooden soldier that was strategically placed outside the bank on payday to deposit coins in for this purpose.
Ironically, many of the men that helped form the Coleman British Empire Service League would now find themselves answering another call to war…
With the completion of a clubhouse, the next goal of the executive was to erect a cenotaph to pay respects to the many Coleman citizens that did not return home from WWI and WWII. On November 18, 1948 the cenotaph was unveiled.
Rock facing is added to the cenotaph surface using rock located in Waterton National Park from a mountain area known as Vimy Ridge. In 1953-54, a wooden soldier is added to the top.
The world finds ourselves facing another conflict, this time in North Korea, and so the Coleman Ladies Auxiliary begin packing comfort packages again, for the Korean War Soldiers.
Veteran’s Clubs across Canada begin fundraising for the social concerns of the time; polio and cancer.
In 1960, Queen Elizabeth grants the British Empire League Services Royal status and we became the Royal Canadian Legion.
In 1963, the Coleman Legion lost their liquor license for 2 months due to liquor violations!
In 1967, thieves break into the Legion and steal the office safe, which, days later is recovered in the Crowsnest River. After several unsuccessful attempts to break into the safe, it was concluded that the thieves grew frustrated and opted to take their losses by throwing it in the river to rid themselves of the evidence. This very safe continues to protect Legion assets today!
Coleman Legion prior to 1986.