Canada’s participation in the First World War is not well-known to most people 100 years later, but the rate of participation was truly staggering. Out of a population of eight million, more than 630,000 men and women were a direct part of the conflict as members of the armed services. On top of that, millions more participated on the home front. A total of 60,661 Canadians died in the war – significantly more than died in the Second World War. Another 172,000 were wounded.
The first meeting took place on April 13, 1926 in the Opera House, called as a result of the efforts of Harry Coates of the Great War Veterans Association, Capt. J.M. MacNeil and Dr. F.D. Sinclair. At that first meeting, about 90 members signed on, and Capt. MacNeil was elected provisional president. A charter as a branch of what was then the British Empire Service league was issued on March 19, 1927.
Early meetings were held in a rough lumber and tarpaper shack located on King Street (now 176A Street) on land donated by Col. A.W. McLelan, a charter member. The shack was sometimes known as the “piano box,” and was inadvertently built on an adjacent lot, rather than on Col. McLelan’s land.
In the early days, entertainment was often in the form of “smokers.” These were held in the Opera House. The entertainment consisted mainly of much smoking, some beer drinking, and a few skits and songs. First World War songs such as “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag” were very popular.
After a few years, the members and executive agreed that a canteen licence was needed. A bid was made for the Burrows and Armstrong building, a former general store located on what is now Highway 10. It sat on property where the Clydesdale Inn stands today.
Despite the tough economic climate in the 1930s, the branch endured with the support of a faithful few members. They kept the Legion afloat.
The sons and daughters of many Great War veterans experienced war firsthand, and found out how it changed their lives and their country, when Canada declared war on Germany on Sept. 10, 1939. More than 1.1 million Canadians joined up, and 44,000 were killed in the war.
The Second World War lasted for six years, and the war expanded to include war on Japan after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941, prompting the U.S. to enter the war.
Many descendants of Legion members took part in the war. Surrey’s population grew rapidly in the late 1930s and 1940s, and when the war was finally over, the Legion entered a major period of growth and expansion.
Plans for a new Legion branch building were made shortly after the war. Surrey sold 11 lots to the branch, on 57 Avenue just west of Cloverdale’s main street, for $1 each. Initial plans called for a one-storey building, but the membership felt a larger building with more amenities would be desirable. The new building was two storeys high, and included a 600-seat auditorium. Total cost was $60,000 and it was officially opened on April 17, 1948. It included a spacious canteen, a billiard room, committee, conference and Department of Veterans Affairs offices.
Unfortunately, the building’s life span was cut short when fire broke out on Aug. 7, 1956 and destroyed the building.
The Legion decided to replace the building with a new one on the same site, but it was not as large. The new building contained a canteen area, and this was expanded to include an auditorium in 1959-60, an upstairs pool room in 1968-69 and a games room in 1985. The kitchen, office and bar area have been enlarged as well, and modernized over the years.
More recently, there were plans to replace the building with new facilities in an adjacent commercial and residential development at 57 Avenue and Highway 15, just west of the present facility. However, these plans did not come to fruition due to a number of factors.
Members voted instead to renovate the current location and make better use of what they already have. Renovations were completed last year and the building has a modern look and plenty of space for both branch and public activities.
The current building contains offices, a bar area, lounge, sports lounge, auditorium and kitchen. It is well-utilized. There is entertainment every Friday and Saturday with dancing, and many special events take place each year.
The Legion has been very well-served by many people on its executive over the years. Barry Zuk is the current president. The Ladies Auxiliary also goes back 90 years, and Marilyn Chepil is the current president.
A Colour Party was formed in the late 1950s and has been active in parades and other events as well as adding dignity to general meetings.
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Views of part of exterior of Cloverdale Legion Hall with members refurbishing lawn under leadership of Council member, Bill Stagg (with shovel). CITY OF SURREY ARCHIVES SA 1992.036.2059
Among the most dedicated members of the Cloverdale branch over the years was Comrade Jack Jolleys, who served as branch president, zone commander, president of the BC Yukon Command (then known as Pacific Command) and president of Dominion Commamd. Comrade Michael Cook also served the Legion at many levels, from branch president to zone commander, president of Pacific Command and treasurer of Dominion Command.
Mike Cook and his wife Judy, the daughter of Jack Jolleys, have been active members of the Legion for 48 years, and have more than a few fond memories. They remember Rodeo weekends, when the branch was always packed with celebrators and it wasn’t unusual for a cowboy to ride his horse through the canteen.
They also recall lineups out the door to get in to dance to the ‘Pierce Bros.’ band.
The property now being redeveloped adjacent to the Legion once was the Cloverdale Ball Park. In those days, the north fire doors were opened and members would sit out there and watch the local softball teams. In effect, that was their first outdoor patio.
The Cooks remember a big celebration of the 50th anniversary, marked over four days in 1977. It included a fashion show put on by Cloverdale’s Jaci Fashions, a dinner dance with the crowning of Miss Legion and on Sunday an awards ceremony with the lieutenant governor attending and giving out awards.
The 60th anniversary 10 years later was marked with a community dinner and dance at Shannon Hall on the fairgrounds.
They also have memories of when Remembrance Day was held at the fairgrounds, as the cenotaph had been relocated there. There were two services – one inside Shannon Hall which was packed, followed by the laying of wreaths outdoors by the cenotaph. A parade led by veterans and other Legion members then marched off to the branch from the fairgrounds.
When the cenotaph was moved to the museum site (Veterans Plaza), then the Remembrance Day service was also moved with one ceremony held outside, rain or shine.
Mike Cook was instrumental in asking the City of Surrey to erect the cenotaph statue of the kneeling soldier in 2005, adding to the importance of the site. The cenotaph was originally located on the Surrey Municipal Hall grounds (the building that is now the archives) and was erected shortly after the conclusion of the First World War. It was Surrey’s first cenotaph.