In the years following the Second World War, many veterans arrived in the Cariboo to work in the thriving forest industry.
Small communities grew and Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) branches began to appear, to provide a place for veterans to gather, to honour them for their service and to ensure they would be taken care of in the future.
Early in 1960, a group of men and women met at the community hall to form a Legion branch in Forest Grove. Within a few months, a charter for Royal Canadian Legion Branch 261 was granted.
Bert Weaver agreed to take on the position of president and the rest of the executive was decided.
Bernie Perkins, charter secretary, donated a ledger for the keeping of minutes. On the front page, Perkins wrote, “May it always record progress.”
A Ladies Auxiliary was also granted a charter that year.
The next step was to find a suitable place for a Legion Hall.
A building owned by Slim Jens seemed ideal. It was located in the centre of the Grove, between the gas station on the corner and Felker’s store, and had been empty for some time.
Bernie’s wife, Dorothy, recalls that Slim, a generous and community-minded man, donated the building to the Legion. Branch minutes record that he also loaned the group $700 to upgrade the building.
Work bees were organized and the exterior of the building was soon re-done with siding and a new entrance. A cedar hydro pole was donated by Larry Bakken from his mill. Tables were built, benches were shellacked and the building was ready for the branch’s official Charter Night celebration on Oct. 8, 1960.
Dorothy described the evening, “Well, it was so cold we had a stove going wide open at each end of the building. The Quesnel Pipe Band came down for the occasion and entertained us.”
For 30 years, the Legion Hall was a going concern. Today, people reminisce with fondness about the old building and the good times they had there.
By 1991, however, the building began to reveal serious aging problems. The foundation and floor were considered unsafe and beyond repair.
A meeting of Legion members and the public was called to discuss the feasibility of building a new, larger Legion building.
It was decided that a new building would benefit the community as well. Blueprints were drawn up and approved and construction began.
From the beginning, it was a community project. Non-Legion members worked side-by-side with members. Throughout 1991/92, volunteers showed up, hammers in hand, to spend every available moment working on the building. Children pounded nails and carried boards. The last of the roofing went on during the first snowfall of 1991.
In the spring of 1993, the old Legion was torn down and anything that could be recycled was set aside. The polished oak dance floor was carefully taken up, cleaned and fitted into the new building.
The grand-opening ceremonies were held on Dec. 13, 1993. The spacious new Legion Hall was a fine addition to the community.
Since 1960, Branch 261 has continued to progress, as Perkins hoped it would when he wrote the dedication in ledger 51 years ago. Sadly there are few charter Legion and Ladies Auxiliary members left.
However, Branch 261 continues to grow and to maintain a strong commitment to its veterans, members and the community of Forest Grove.
The branch makes significant donations to various organizations and schools and sponsors sports events. Scholarships are awarded to local students. In 2011, an auction raised money for a Forest Grove family with overwhelming medical expenses.
Branch 261 provides members and guests with a welcoming, safe environment for socializing close to home, while maintaining the purpose for which all Legions exist: to honour Canadian veterans from all wars and conflicts.
A beautiful display case in the Legion and the memorabilia on display give us reason not to forget.
Becoming a Legion member has been simplified in recent years. Military affiliation is no longer necessary. Anyone interested should call the Legion at 250-397-2455.