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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
History Unveiled: NOTL Legion in the modern era

This is the second of a two-part series.

The Legion had its share of struggles in the early days: In 1929 the world was thrown into the Great Depression. Then the “dirty 30s” arrived, a period where jobs were scarce, families moved away and homes were lost.

This caused the finances of Branch 124 to almost run dry.

In 1931 the Legion gave up its rental of the Curtis House at 175 Victoria St. and temporarily moved into several rooms at the Prince of Wales Hotel. A few months later the next temporary move was to the Town Hall, which became home for four years. Finances started to improve and in 1935 Branch 124 moved into 272 King St. – the Carnochan House.

In 1936, General Dm. M. Nelles died at the age of 72. On his death he was made an honorary member. Two years later, with permission of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 124 officially changed its name to General Nelles (Ontario Number 124) Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Once again the Legion was on the move and purchased a small house near the Oban Inn. However, it was discovered that no expansion could be done on the home so another move was anticipated.

But this time it was a bit more complicated. Property was found that could be rented for $5 a year. The decision was made to dismantle the entire house near the Oban Inn and, with volunteer labour, move the house and rebuild on the new site at 225 King St. The new site was on the property beside Greens Livery (Grill on King) and Lees Laundry (Balzac’s).

The 1930s were a big challenge to the Legion, but it also was 10 years of improvements, a more efficient management system and many annual activities were established.

However, rumblings of another world war were circulating and the Legion started to move into readiness. Soldiers were once again training at Niagara Camp and using the Legion facilities more and more. Women were now forbidden to be included in any activities held at the Legion.

In 1942, the Branch 124 Ladies Auxiliary was given its charter and in March, women were approved to be part of the membership. The auxiliaries eventually replaced the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), which had worked closely with the Legion and helped launched the poppy campaign.

Now even though the women were not permitted in the Legion for many of the activities, they could hold their own activities on other nights inside the facility.

The Legion carried on throughout the Second World War, assisting the young trainees in town, helping their families and supporting the war effort with fundraisers. The women’s auxiliary continued raising money as well.

After the Second World War ended, membership in all Legions across Canada swelled and Branch 124 was no exception.

Prior to the war, plans were made to expand the building at 225 King St., but with $6,000 in the budget the Legion instead purchased the land called “The Pines” at Ricardo and Wellington streets. There was a large two-storey brick home on the property that could be used for many purposes. On Feb. 18, 1947, the new location of Branch 124 was officially opened.

In 1948, Branch 124 was proactive in helping veterans from the Second World War. Members were able to initiate the building of a small housing complex just east of King Street. A contest was held to help name the three rows of houses in this area. The Carnochan Subdivision was one of the winning names as was Nelles Street.

Branch 124 pushed further to develop a new sports park, east of King Street where Veterans Lane now is. The baseball diamond was a great hit with the community, especially when lights were installed in the 1960s.

As well, Branch 124 brought to fruition one of its major proposals. In the 1950s, with church graveyards being closed to all but members of the church, the Legion pushed through the idea that a public cemetery was needed in the area. In 1966, Niagara Lakeshore Cemetery officially opened and it includes a veteran’s section.

In 1965, the members of Branch 124 made one more move, their final purchase, 410 King St., the land near the baseball diamond. In 1966, the cornerstone of the new building was laid and on July 8, 1967, the new Legion hall was officially opened.

The General Nelles (Ontario Number 124) Branch Royal Canadian Legion finally had a permanent home to carry on its members’ support for community projects and to honour all Canadians who served in the military.

It remains an integral part of the community today.


More Niagara’s History Unveiled articles about the past of Niagara-on-the-Lake are available at:

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