WALKERTON – Royal Canadian Legion Branch 102 hosted veterans for the annual Remembrance Dinner Saturday evening, Nov. 6.
The event continues to be a tradition in Walkerton, and even though COVID-19 public health requirements meant fewer people for this year’s dinner, many of those present expressed the hope that next year’s Remembrance Dinner sees a return of a much larger crowd, including cadets.
The Walkerton and District Optimist Club served the meal. As always, the hat was passed around but the Optimists declined to accept the money, asking instead that it be donated to the Poppy Fund.
Following dinner, special speaker Clarence “Butch” Kieffer told the history of Walkerton’s cenotaph. Those present listened in fascination as Kieffer described how the “Soldiers Memorial” came to be.
The account was to have been read at a special ceremony July 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the cenotaph; the ceremony was rained out, unfortunately, but Kieffer’s account was published in the July 15 edition of the Walkerton Herald-Times.
A number of possibilities for a memorial were explored – a hospital wing, a chime bell or clock for Victoria Jubilee Hall, even scholarships for students. A committee was formed to further explore the matter, and a parcel of land was donated for a possible monument.
A suggestion was made by the son of the late Capt. Dr. Malcolm McKechnie, killed in action Aug. 8, 1918 at age 29, that the matter of a memorial be put to a vote – the mothers and fathers who had lost sons in the war would decide whether to have a monument. The decision in favour of the monument was announced July 8, 1920.
The next year was taken up by fundraising. The people of the community showed their support in donations of varying amounts, everything from a few cents to over a thousand dollars.
Almost a year to the day later, on July 23, 1921, the monument was unveiled.
“The names of the fallen would be preserved in stone … for all the citizens of Walkerton to honour,” said Kieffer.
The monument is now surrounded by the Walk of Honour and formal flower beds in Walkerton Memorial Park – in Kieffer’s words, “a precious jewel in the community that’s up to us to preserve.”
It’s also the 100th anniversary of the poppy, as a symbol of remembrance. It was noted that Canada Post has come out with a commemorative poppy stamp.
Those at the head table brought greetings from various levels of government. MP Ben Lobb thanked the veterans and their families “for your commitment to freedom around the world … we can’t thank you enough for that.” And he thanked the Legion for its commitment to ensuring veterans get the services they deserve.
John McPhee, representing MPP Lisa Thompson, is himself a member of Branch 102. He spoke of the strong support of the Legion, and his own fond memories of Poppy Campaign activities.
Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody brought greetings on behalf of the municipality and county. He thanked the Legion volunteers for their many contributions to the community, and he thanked the veterans for their service.
“We appreciate the work you do,” he said. “The story of the memorial is amazing.”
He remarked on the fact it was left to individual townships to fundraise for their memorials, and said Walkerton has one the community can be proud of.
As always, the Remembrance Dinner culminated in the presentation of service awards.
This year, there were over 40 awards, most of which will be given out at a later date. Present to accept their awards were associate members Jim Bester – 40 years, and Ruth Critchfield – 30 years.
A final reminder was given of Remembrance Day Services in Walkerton – 10:45 a.m. at the cenotaph, and 1:30 p.m. in Mildmay. There’ll be no parade this year.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times