War Pensioners of Canada surrender colours at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

OTTAWA—The doughty warriors of the War Pensioners of Canada (WPC) have finally met a foe they cannot overcome—as the organization reached its 100th anniversary of its founding, age has taken a steady toll on their ranks. 

WPC leadership took the difficult decision to disband their organization after a century of service and to turn over their colours and archives to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. A small group of remaining members travelled to Ottawa for ceremonies marking the historic turnover.

The turnover of the WPC colours began at 6 am on Wednesday, September 21, with the final official WPC ceremony taking place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Parliament building.

WPC president Colin Pick provided a bit of history of the organization. “Leading up to the founding of the organization in 1922, a group of former members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, who themselves had suffered great wounds and disabilities and were not yet receiving a pension or getting ongoing treatment, held several meetings to try and remedy this situation,” said Mr. Pick. This was long before the advent of medical recognition of invisible wounds. “Some disabilities were obvious, but people were not fully aware of the mental injuries which were not readily visible.”

“Following 1922, after changing their name to the War Pensioners of Canada Inc. in order to focus mainly on pension rights and disability issues, the WPC proceeded under the motto of ‘veterans helping veterans’ and they have continued to serve under that motto to this day.”

The WPC rapidly expanded in the post “war to end all wars” period before the Second World War. “Soon thereafter, in addition to branches in Toronto and Victoria, other branch charters were issued to Hamilton, Windsor, Brantford, Edmonton, London, Sarnia, Sudbury, Welland-Fenthill, Thessalon, Espanola/North Shore and, finally, the Manitoulin Unit said Mr. Pick.

The final charters came about as consolidations of earlier groups were made necessary by dwindling numbers, he noted.

As for the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mr. Pick noted the WPC troop was given a “royal welcome” by the War museum’s deputy director Narmin Ismail-Teja and Francine Lapointe, supervisor of special events and partnerships at the Canadian Museum of History and Canadian War Museum as the colours were marched on and deposited in front of the stage area. 

Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Irish Regiment of Canada, Kevin McCormick, introduced Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, who then paid tribute to the 100 years of service by the WPC. Lt. Col. McCormick then presented WPC President Pick with a framed Vincent military document dated 1923 as a memento of the day.

MP Hughes spoke of her association with Mr. Pick and other members of the Espanola/North Shore Manitoulin WPC over her years in office and the dedication to service those members have had to veterans.

Mr. Pick then spoke of the local history of the WPC and the significant dedication by long serving members to help reach the day. “By veterans helping veterans and others in the community,” he said. Mr. Pick then spoke of Fred Vincent, who helped form the Sudbury branch, which was later named in his honour following Mr. Vincent’s 40 years of dedication and service to others.

Mr. Pick also acknowledged his dear friend and mentor Raymond Constantineau who, like so many veterans today, now resides in a nursing home. “After giving his all to this association of veterans for some 35 years, of which he served as the elected president for some 28 years, he would have dearly loved to have been with us today,” said Mr. Pick.

Mr. Pick also made reference to WPC “ambassador” the late Larry Killens, a long-time Rainbow District School Board trustee for his help and involvement with the establishment of the Warriors Peace Pole program at Manitoulin Island schools and all that Mr. Killens did in support of activities involving veterans and school students.

Mr. Pick acknowledged MP Peter Stoffer, who he said, “is the only politician to become an ambassador of the WPC” for his many years of service as the NDP Veterans Affairs critic, “where he fraught long and hard for veterans’ rights and benefits.”

In conclusion Mr. Pick paid his respects to the most recent WPC Ambassidor Lt. Col. McCormick for all his work in helping veterans and their families in Canada and other countries. 

Mr. Pick then went on to speak of how when recruits joined military service they were often referred to as “earning the King or Queen’s shilling. Knowing how dear Queen Elizabeth was to so many around the world and Lt. Col. McCormick holding our late Queen dear in his heart” before presenting Lt. Col. McCormick with a gold coin celebrating the Queen’s seven decades upon the throne.

The turning over of the colours and archives to the Canadian War Museum does not mark the end of the battle for veterans’ rights and service to that community, Mr. Pick assured The Expositor.

“We will still be here working for veterans through the North Shore and Manitoulin chapter of Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans (ANAVETS),” he said. “We aren’t going away as long as there are veterans who need our support to get the benefits and services they deserve.”