By Troy Bannerman - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 9, 2023.
The General Stewart Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion held its 17th annual Tree of Remembrance ceremony recently to remember veterans who died this year. A total of 42 veterans were honoured at this year’s ceremony which was organized by Linda Gallant and Char Peck.
Gallant noted that in the beginning “there were five ladies, it wasn’t to do with the ladies auxiliary at all about that time.” It was started by Gladys Archer, and Lorraine Jensen, June Hood, Mary Hider, and Sharon Parker. Looking back on the history, we think it started about 2006, and it’s been going ever since except for COVID.”
Over the years there have been minor changes to the program. Gallant stated.
“We used to have it the first Saturday in December. Now with the branch downsizing, we have to go into this room. So it will be the first Sunday in December. We have Christmas balls that the people will be able to take as a remembrance of their veteran. One at one time, we used to have like 75 veterans a year that would have passed away. And as our veterans get older, of course we lose a few each year.”
Gallant indicated that the Legion is not always aware when veterans die.
“The only way we find out about these veterans is if we read the paper. So if it says something in there about being a veteran, we cut it out. And that’s how we get their names. I wish we had had more family out. We notify the families by sending letters to the funeral homes where they were, and then they send the letters out because of FOIP. We can’t get that information. So our funeral homes have been excellent on passing out our information to get the families here.”
This was Gallant’s last year working on the program, she said.
“This year we’re handing it off because there’s a few of us that are getting older and want to pass it off. We’re passing it off to great hands. . .They’ll carry it on and they’ll do it in the best way that we can.”
Peck wiIl be taking over the ceremony next year.
“It was my first time experiencing the Tree of Remembrance. And I heard from other people that it was a beautiful ceremony. I’m a veteran’s wife. And I felt that it was something that I would like to take part in. And the ladies said that they would gladly hand it down and we did it today.”
Peck is the treasurer of the Women’s Auxiliary and is very excited to be part of this project.
The ceremony was very moving. Piper David Kaminski played “Gabriel’s Angels” as the living veterans came in and took their seats. Then “In Flanders Fields” was recited. While Kaminski played “Amazing Grace” the Navy League Cadets of 50 NLCC Lethbridge carried candles and placed them on display at the front of the room to honour the fallen veterans. After the ceremony the families and attendants shared a sandwich lunch provided by the Legion.
“We have one Remembrance Day a year for our veterans and for what they’ve given us. We should have months, months of Remembrance. I think we’re losing that a bit.”