Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sutton's Royal Canadian Legion

A Morning with Sutton's Legionnaires

By Manfried H. Starhemberg
I could not have staged this - after being invited to brunch at Sutton's Royal Canadian Legion, I sat behind a man wearing this poignant T-shirt. I have to admit that even after having lived in Sutton for 12 years, this was the first time I have set foot into the legion hall. As a veteran of the "police action" in Vietnam, I had been disillusioned about the so called "service associations", because the three times I had tried to join such groups in the United States and was not accepted because Vietnam was not a recognized "war", had predisposed me about what I had begun to think of as "a bunch of old farts with no grasp of the real world".
Well, this Sunday, April 10, changed my perception. I was joined at table by Mr. Marchand, a former vice president of this legion, a former town council member and our local "paper boy" who together with his wife has delivered the Gazette, La Presse and the Sherbrooke Record to hundreds of people on his daily 90 kilometer trek. {"I like the Sherbrooke Record, it pays me far better than the Gazette or La Presse")
"After World War 1, there were no psychiatrists, no veterans associations, no assistance to returning soldiers. Thus, the legions were formed, where people with common concerns, fears and ghosts of their recent past could sit together over a beer and try to help each other out", explaines Mr. Marchand. "And you are right, there always has been the feeling that the last war was the greatest. The guys from WW1 rejected the folks from WW2, who in turn later tried to hold on to their "glory" by at first denying Korean war veterans equal privileges. And now, the Korean war vets, feeling that their deeds might be forgotten, reject the people who fougt in Vietnam. It is not animosity, rather it is an ill placed sentimentalism and we have been fighting to overcome this for a long time. In our legion every soldier is welcome, even those who have fought on the 'other side'."

Every other week the Legion has an "all you can eat" brunch for $ 8.- On April 10, 132 people availed themselves of this service and I have to admit that I have rarely had a better breakfast in this restaurant rich village. The sausages were perfect, the bacon crisp, the home fries delicately seasoned. Legion president Ron Caswell, who also doubles as chef explained: "It is a new recipe, I add finely ground dried red peppers to the onion and garlic mixture. The potatoes are pre cooked before they go onto the grill where they brown slowly. Nancy ate heavenly pancakes and I went back for some home made beans and excellent ham.
I digress, this is after all not a restaurant review but a story about dedicated people who play a large role in this small community. Right now the legion has 165 members. It was founded in 1946 and first was housed in a rented facility on Maple street. Since 1981 the group has owned the current location on Curly street, across the street from Sutton's storied curling club. In summer the huge parking lot and adjoining grassy expanse becomes the "Sutton Flea Market" every Saturday and you can find volunteers from the legion setting up tables in the morning and cleaning up after the last vendors and buyers have disappeared in the afternoon.
"We are service oriented" explains Mr. Caswell. "When the ice storm hit the town in 1998, we cranked up our powerful generator and people had a place to go to, to get coffee, clean up, get warm, meet their friends. We are always ready for such emergencies and the hall is open to all in need". "Maybe we should run the generator once in a while" chimes in good humored Abby Marchand, a neighbor of ours and in charge of the cash at brunch time. Abby is 66 and tireless in assisting, Ron is 65 and his wife, 15 years his junior works the kirchen alongside him. So are a brother in law and other family members. "There are always about 12 people around to do the cookling and cleaning for brunch" explains Mr. Marchand. Of the membership, about 10% volunteer for active duty, "the rest get to eat good", chuckles Caswell.
The full service bar is open Wednesday to Sunday after 4pm and is the unofficial headquarters of the legion where chicken and biscuit supper, (May 7th,) the silent auction with live music, the bingo nights and the newest addition, hamburger and hot dog nights are being planned and plotted. Not exactly a military strategy but the friendly people here take it just as serious from the purchase of items for the auction, to the purchase of the food for brunch."Not to many restaurants with just a self tought volunteer staff can handle up to 200 guests for breakfast on a Sunday morning, plan it out, have the hall ready and make sure there is enough for everyone without there being too much waste on the end of the day" states Abby Marchand.
Sounds like sound military strategy to me, but of course, that is where it all began and the many citations and medals and photos that adorn legion hall bear full testimony to this more serious side of the legion.
On the end, "Lest we Forget" ,encompasses the ongoing mission of these dedicated people. And today I am mailing in my check and membership application.

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