Remembrance Day: True Patriot Love

Prescott’s Royal Canadian Legion honours its brave veterans and deep military history.

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Legion Branch 97 president Frank Murphy and member Patricia Lemaire in time for Remembrance Day
Courtesy: Candy Alexander

Prescott has everything a small town needs and more, starting with its location. We are an hour south of Ottawa, 1½ hours east of Kingston and two hours from Montreal. The trip from Prescott to Ogdensburg, N.Y., including the drive over the International Bridge, takes just 15 minutes.

Although small in population (approximately 4,000), we have Fort Wellington National Historic Site, the Sandra S. Lawn Harbour and Marina, the Kinsmen Amphitheatre, the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, a Canadian Coast Guard Base (home of the CCGS Griffon), the Leo Boivin Community Centre and so much more. There are great athletes, musicians, actors and artists, as well as entrepreneurs, shops and businesses.

Situated along the shores of the majestic St. Lawrence River, Prescott was established after King George III awarded Maj. Edward Jessup with 1,200 acres for his loyalty to the Crown during the American War of Independence. Jessup converted a portion of his farm into a town site in 1810, naming the town after Gen. Robert Prescott, governor of Canada from 1796 to 1799.

Prescott was a strategic site on the St. Lawrence River. It stood at the head of the series of rapids between it and Montreal, and all boats and ships between Montreal and York (later named Toronto) had to transfer goods and people at Prescott between smaller and larger vessels. When war broke out in 1812 between America and Britain, the British built Fort Wellington to safeguard the border, maintain the flow of traffic and accommodate British soldiers

Prescott grew quickly because of its location and the availability of land for sale to settlers, largely from the British Isles and the United States, who began arriving immediately after the war, in 1816. By 1834, the population had grown to around 1,700, boasting a large number of handsome stone residences and commercial establishments. During the late 1800s, Prescott and neighbouring townships even had a plentiful supply of breweries and distilleries, until Prohibition closed them down in 1916.

Prescott’s Fort Wellington Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion began in 1920 as Branch 97 of the Great War Veterans Association, when 12 World War I warriors banded together. The name was later changed to the British Empire Service League; the group received its charter on May 2, 1927, as the Royal Canadian Legion. Initially, the club rooms were upstairs, above a commercial establishment. Now, Branch 97 is located in Prescott’s former town hall (built in 1851) and first high school. The building survived a fire in 1964 and has been rebuilt and expanded over the years.

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St. Lawrence Academy students at the cenotaph
Courtesy: Candy Alexander

As part of its mission to honour fallen veterans, Branch 97 takes part in the annual Royal Canadian Legion literary/poster contest. Each fall, local students are invited to portray their perspective, and approximately 200 posters are displayed in the Legion’s hall for two weeks prior to and including Remembrance Day.

The community has an opportunity to judge the entries in the various grade divisions and categories: literary (prose/poetry) and posters (colour and black/white). The job is tough! The top three winners in each grade division and category are invited, along with their families, to an awards ceremony at the Branch. Each winner receives a certificate of achievement and a monetary award. It is here that the first-place winner in each grade division and category is announced; their entries advance to the next level of competition, and potentially reach district, provincial and national levels.

The students’ Wall of Fame was established May 12, 2016, to showcase outstanding artwork, prose and poetry for the public to enjoy. I serve as the Branch’s chair of youth education, and Branch president Frank Murphy and I are extremely proud of these students and the many others who participate annually in the Remembrance Day contest.

Our Legion Colour Party hosts a pre-Remembrance Day service at the local campground prior to the season closing, and the Legion holds its annual poppy campaign in November leading up to Remembrance Day. All funds raised by the poppy campaign go directly to assisting veterans, their spouses and their children and are never used for any other purpose.

The Sunday prior to November 11, the Legion participates in the annual Remembrance Day service at a local church, followed by participation in “Remember the Fallen” at the cenotaph at a neighbouring township. On November 11, our Legion partners with Fort Wellington, where our cenotaph is located, for our Remembrance Day service. We incorporate a bugle player and a cannon firing. Approximately 400 people, including schoolchildren, take part. After the cenotaph ceremony, the community is invited back to the Legion for fellowship and a buffet lunch.

Our Legion is also home to “Canada Proud,” a unique fundraising quilt inspired, designed, created and donated “with love” in 2016 by member Patricia Lemaire. She writes: “The blocks are the log cabin pattern representing our homes. The poppies are to remember our vets who fought to protect these homes and did not return. Around the Maple Leaf are four soldier designs quilted to represent the forces on guard North, South, West and East and, of course, the mighty Maple Leaf representing our proud nation.” The quilt will be raffled off to raise funds for the Legion.

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