Recovering from fire, Legion in Montreal's West Island pushes on with poppy campaign

Martin Bruyère is president of the General Vanier 234 branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Martin Bruyère is president of the General Vanier 234 branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

Lucas Apter still remembers his parents buying poppies for the family when he was a child, turning it into an annual tradition of remembrance for those who served.

"I think it's important to recognize their service and get a poppy in representation of that," he said.

Now the poppies carry even more significance for the General Vanier 234 branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough because its building, and all the poppies within it, were destroyed in a fire this time last year.

But the poppy campaign isn't stopping in the West Island.

Branch president Martin Bruyère said it's the support of the community that ensured the Roxboro Royal Canadian Legion was able to carry on the tradition.

"Sure, we have members that had worked hard and long on getting us back on our feet, but without the community, we would have been closed down," he said.

Lucas Apter says he's been wearing poppies this time of year since he was a child.
Lucas Apter says he's been wearing poppies this time of year since he was a child.

Lucas Apter says he's been wearing poppies this time of year since he was a child. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Among the dedicated volunteers is Sandii Smith, whose family history intertwines with the legion's legacy.

"You have to do your part," she said. "They did their part. This is the least I can do."

Smith's grandfather was in the First and Second World Wars. Her cousin also served overseas.

The fire took a toll, leaving behind memories that were either salvaged or lost forever, but more than $40,000 has since been raised for renovation and rebuilding.

Already, the branch is back up and partially running again. And for Bruyère, the sight of poppies adorning lapels brought an undeniable sense of pride this year, he said.

"I'm so thankful that they remember, they take the time, even if it's only a few seconds to stop, and even if it's only a couple of dollars, they remember the sacrifices that were made by our veterans," he said.

Bruyère is the son of two veterans as well as the father of a veteran.

As the poppy drive continues through Remembrance Day, the legion has set its sights on getting the basement kitchen up and running to ensure no veterans spend the holidays alone.

 Sandii Smith, left, says volunteering for the legion is a great opportunity to spend time with her mother,  Betty Smith.
Sandii Smith, left, says volunteering for the legion is a great opportunity to spend time with her mother, Betty Smith.

Sandii Smith, left, says volunteering for the legion is a great opportunity to spend time with her mother, Betty Smith. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

The poppy campaign started on Oct. 20. The Royal Canadian Legion has in recent years launched an e-donation platform online, biodegradable poppies and other initiatives in its continued effort to modernize the annual campaign.

Funds donated across the country during the National Poppy Campaign support veterans and their families. Funds donated locally stay local. Nearly $20 million is donated each year.

"This is a special time for the Legion and for all Canadians," says Bruce Julian, dominion president, in a statement.

"While we remember our fallen veterans year-round, this is when the whole country is focused on our collective gratitude for their sacrifices."