Sir Douglas Haig, who during the First World War had served as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, which included the Canadians, attended the Calgary Stampede in 1925. His visit to the Stampede was one stop on his cross-Canada tour promoting veterans’ causes.
When Canadian soldiers returned from the war, Canada was very different than when they had left. Jobs had become more technical and many veterans were unskilled labourers. Making matters worse, veterans’ pensions were very small because the government believed that they should only be supplementary to other income. Almost one in every three veterans had suffered debilitating wounds and countless more had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many could not afford to live in post-war Canada.
Supporting veterans fell to charitable organizations, including numerous national organizations as well as local and regional groups. Their intentions were good but there were too many groups that were too small. They feuded regularly over who would control monies generated by the Poppy Fund. Like today, each November, Canadians would buy and wear poppies. The profits from this campaign were divided between veteran organizations, but by 1925, the groups were so at odds with each other that the veterans did not receive the benefits they could have.
Haig’s trip helped remedy the situation. He crossed the country with a simple message of a united effort. He arrived in Calgary on Thursday, July 9th. His party included numerous representatives from Canadian veterans’ groups. They rode on horseback through downtown Calgary to Stampede Park. Thousands of Calgarians lined the route to cheer on Haig. He then attended the rodeo, met movie star Hoot Gibson who was the Stampede parade marshal that year, and talked with First Nations community leaders, who gave him the honourary name Chief Bull Head. The Stampede, an event wholly dedicated to building a unique and united community, helped Haig spread his message of unity and support to our veterans.
In November, the success of Haig’s tour came to fruition with the founding of the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League: today’s Royal Canadian Legion. The Legion quickly spread from coast to coast becoming a place of refuge, support and comradeship for veterans. Its programs supported disabled veterans and helped those in financial need. The Legion hall became a social hub for many communities. It also lobbied the government for better support and pensions for the country’s war heroes.
Since 1925, the Calgary Stampede has continued to recognize, support, and commemorate the service and sacrifice of the Canadian Forces. Buy a poppy this November. Wear it in proud reminder of our nation’s fallen and, in doing so, support our veterans through the important work and programs of the Canadian Legion.