Volunteer Roy Eaton honoured with Legion Life Membership

    Comrade Roy Eaton was given a Life Membership to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #117 late last week. He’s seen flanked by Branch #177 Membership Chair Judy Miller, left, and Branch #177 President Debbie Menard, who affixes the Life Membership pin to Comrade Eaton’s lapel. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

    LITTLE CURRENT—Through thick and thin, Comrade Roy Eaton has stood by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #177 Little Current and was awarded for his efforts earlier this month with an Honorary Life Membership to Branch #177.

    A Legion member for 24 years, Mr. Eaton first got heavily involved with the Legion in 2007. “In 2007, it had a number of problems with the executive positions, finances—everything,” he admits. Up until then, Mr. Eaton had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Legion from afar, first joining 24 years ago at the urging of John Hodder, a fellow member of the Little Current Curling Club, so that they might enter the competitive Legion bonspiels at the time. Beyond that Mr. Eaton says he, like so many others, merely paid his dues.

    In 2007, however, Jeff Marshall approached Mr. Eaton, asking him to take on the role of president. “I knew nothing of the protocol,” Mr. Eaton explains.

    Mr. Marshall asked Sue Morin to come on as treasurer and Peewee Oliver to come on as first vice—both well-versed in Legion protocol and there to walk Mr. Eaton through it all.

    “It was the perfect mix—it just worked,” he said of the executive. “We all got along together and it’s been a rather exhilarating experience ever since.”

    In 2008 Mr. Eaton was named Legionnaire of the Year for his efforts.

    Since that post as president, Mr. Eaton has served under the District H Commander as public relations officer, District H newsletter editor as well as District H webmaster. He also holds the title of Ontario Command Editor of the biannual Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Newsletter.

    “I imagine I’ll be there for a very long time,” he said of his role as public relations officer.

    Mr. Eaton explained that his father and uncle both served in WWII. His uncle landed at D-Day and fought his way through Europe. His father wasn’t allowed to fight overseas due to health concerns, so instead joined the military police and served in that capacity in Toronto.

    “I have a personal connection,” Mr. Eaton said of his dedication to the Legion.

    During a special ceremony held at Branch #177 in his honour, Branch President Debbie Menard gifted Mr. Eaton with his award, plaque and special lapel pin, marking him as an Honorary Life Member of the Legion.

    “Roy has a very long history of credentials that span almost 50 years in our community and elsewhere,” the president said. “He must be commended for his outstanding efforts and endeavors and doing such in an amicable and professional manner. His dedication and commitment to the Legion and the community has been a godsend of tremendous value. Thus, understandably, we feel that Roy’s endeavors have more than exceeded outstanding service and devotion. It is our expressed hope that you will feel the same way.”

    The volunteer has a wealth of experience on the water, too. It was this part of his life that made him a good candidate for the Manitoulin North Shore Naval Veterans Association.

    “You just really can’t help but to be moved by these vets the more you spend with them,” he said of founding members Allan Tustian, Jeff Marshall and the late Ed Kift. “And that’s the idea of the Legion, helping vets. Everything else is secondary.”

    One of those secondary things is children, he added, noting fellow comrade Marcel Gauthier’s work with the Legion’s school poster campaign, poetry and public speaking contest.

    “Veterans and kids—they’re the two main things for me,” Mr. Eaton, the retired principal of Manitoulin Secondary School, said.

    Back at sea, Mr. Eaton is the host of the incredibly popular Cruisers’ Net program heard daily from July 1 to August 31 in VHF channel 71—another volunteer gig.

    “A year after I retired, in 2002, Margaret and I (with their sailboat) left for nine months from Spider Bay Marina for the Bahamas,” he explained.

    It was there, in the Bahamas, that the couple tuned in each day to the local Cruisers’ Net, but were disheartened with the lack of Canadian news, especially as many the boaters there were from the Great White North. It was decided that Mr. Eaton would be appointed to complain and this fact was brought forward at a Cruisers’ Net happy hour. “So I was left in charge,” he said. “In the evening I would listen to the World at Six on CBC and write down news to share.”

    It was decided that, upon his return, Mr. Eaton would begin a Cruisers’ Net for the North Channel, which has grown increasingly popular year after since its inception 14 years ago.

    “I am so blessed to have volunteers to help me (with the broadcast) when I’m busy,” Mr. Eaton said. But for the most part, it’s him every morning, seven days a week, for 62 days each summer.

    For those uninitiated with a typical Cruisers’ Net broadcast, it begins with any emergency medical or priority issues for boaters. Mr. Eaton’s cell phone is well-known among the North Channel boating world and is often left for family members at home as a way to reach the boater while on the water. Should an emergency arise at home, Mr. Eaton is called and he can then hail the boat that the emergency message is directed to as, chances are, they will be listening.

    The Cruisers’ Net is registered with both Canadian and US coast guard services who also utilize Mr. Eaton’s broadcast.

    “Next is what’s the weather,” he said, noting that he tries to give as accurate a broadcast as possible depending on the region of the North Channel as the weather always differs.

    The weather is followed by the news of the world followed by sports (paying special attention to the Blue Jays, Tigers and Cubs), then the stock market, the Canadian dollar’s worth and on to what events are happening on Manitoulin and the North Shore that boaters can get to. On Fridays, Mr. Eaton tells a local history story followed by a question. The first person with the correct answer who gets in to see Debby Turner at Turners of Little Current gets a gift, courtesy of the store. Also on Friday, the Anchor Inn hosts a boaters’ happy hour in the bar from 3 to 5 pm, complete with special guest speakers. “The Anchor has been our sponsor from day one,” he noted.

    There are currently 127 burgees from around the world adorning the walls of the official Cruisers’ Net HQ at the Anchor Inn.

    In 2010, Mr. Eaton was named as Canadian Volunteer of the Year by the Canadian Safe Boating Council. He has a host of other accolades to his name, including an honorary membership in the Great Lakes Cruising Club and a lifetime membership in the America’s Great Loop Cruising Association.

    It is thanks in part to his connections in the boating world that the Little Current Yacht Club was begun with Mr. Eaton as its founding commodore, serving in that position for three years and acting as rear commodore ever since. Not long after, Mr. Eaton was approached by Little Current businessmen Bruce O’Hare, John Smulders and Jib Turner about helping to start an international yacht race, the Mackinaw to Manitoulin, or MacMan, Yacht Race. He told them that if they commit to the formation of a youth sailing program, he’ll get on board, and they did. The MacMan Race ran for 10 years and evolved into a port-to-port North Channel event.

    Peggy Young-Lovelace got busy and found funding for the youth sailing program.

    “The MacMan race hasn’t, but the youth sailing program has survived,” he noted.

    Mr. Eaton is also the volunteer webmaster for the Little Current United Church Pastoral Charge and is the “mission enthusiast” for his church.

    He also has 12 years with the board of the Sudbury-Manitoulin Children’s Aid Society (CAS) under his belt and was named as an Honorary Life Member for his work with the CAS.

    Mr. Eaton is also well-known for his work with the Doric Lodge and has acted as grand master and deputy grand master.

    “It’s giving back for all the good things that have happened in our lives,” Mr. Eaton said of volunteering. “It’s making a difference in a small way.”

    “In the sailing community, we were helped and help other boaters,” he continued. “Now that we don’t boat any more, it’s a way to give back. My whole life has been on the water and I love sharing that joy and enthusiasm of the North Channel. The North Channel is the No. 1 freshwater cruising destination in the world.”

    “It’s that term, giving back—that’s what we’re doing,” Mr. Eaton said.

    “Volunteering keeps you young,” he concluded. “When you’re retired, for many people, their job was everything. This gets you out, gets you involved and you get back more than you ever give—you really do. Look at the different volunteer organizations in your community and say, ‘is there anything there that might interest me.’ Start small and you won’t regret it.”