EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of a new BurlingtonToday series — 'THIS IS BURLINGTON' — that showcases the people, places, organizations and businesses that make our city so special. Click HERE to read every story in the series, which will run throughout the month of November.
As we approach Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, our thoughts turn to the sacrifice of others who served in foreign wars or peacekeeping missions to protect our freedoms. The Royal Canadian Legion, with branches in small towns and large municipalities across the country are places for veterans, their descendants and the general public to gather, remember and celebrate our safety and security.
Each branch holds a few mementos and artifacts, reminders of the people, places and purpose of those who served our country. But not all branches have a whole room full of memorabilia, photographs, medals, pins, books, models - and more - the way Branch 60 at 828 Legion Road has.
Countless items have been donated to the local Legion by generations of family members wishing to honour their parents or grandparents, those who signed up to the army, navy, air force, merchant marine or RCMP.
“Each item has a story,” explained Bob Ankrett, Branch 60’s museum curator and member of the branch executive.
Ankrett has made it his mission to collect and display items, to talk to family members who donate a medal, or photo, or article of clothing that belonged to an earlier generation – veterans from ‘the Great War’, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, or later excursions. He is also integral to the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies and keeping an eye on Veteran Square beside City Hall.
“The purpose of this museum is to pay homage and honour veterans and families that have gone on before,” said Ankrett. “Every veteran holds on to something that is sacred to them. It’s not always a medal, it could be a cap, a coin, anything. And to you it could just look like knickknacks but to family members it is incredibly important and moving. We are the custodians of those items and their history.”
Ankrett has heard the stories behind the memorabilia, the painful recollections that most veterans don’t share, even with their loved ones, until their later days.
The museum is housed in the lower level of the branch facilities, across from the bar, beside the pool tables.
The Legion depends on donations, fundraising events, and sales of meals to keep the doors open. Branch 60 has two halls available for rent and welcomes all in the lower lounge whether it’s to feast on Friday Fish & Chips, play a little pool, sit back and have a beverage, enjoy one of the weekly music performances and special fundraising concert events, or visit the museum.
A local retailer donated a half-dozen display cases to help preserve the donations and to house the items not yet on display. And there are always more items coming in. It’s an evolving diorama with incredible insight into Canadian history.
“The museum is not a celebration of war, it’s a celebration of sacrifice.” observed Ankrett. “If you enjoy going to church, if you are thankful for the freedom of speech, if you vote, thank a veteran."
The Branch 60 museum is open to the public, not just on Remembrance Day, but all year round when the Legion is open during regular hours. Best to call ahead, 905-639-6400 or 905-639-6060.