Wilmot Remembers: Local Legion will honour Veterans in New Dundee and New Hamburg ceremonies

New Hamburg’s Ross Eichler deals with public health protocols while leading the local Poppy drive, which raised $35,000 last year

  • Feature   Thu, Nov 4th, 2021   Nigel Gordijk
Ross Eichler leads the New Hamburg Legion’s annual Poppy drive, which raised $35,000 last year. He oversees the distribution of hundreds of boxes of the iconic emblem throughout Wilmot. (Photo credit Nigel Gordijk)

Ross Eichler leads the New Hamburg Legion’s annual Poppy drive, which raised $35,000 last year. He oversees the distribution of hundreds of boxes of the iconic emblem throughout Wilmot. (Photo credit Nigel Gordijk)

For the second year, Wilmot’s Remembrance Day tributes will be scaled down affairs.

The plan is to mark the occasion without a parade or large indoor gathering. Legion members, colour bearers, and members of the public who wish to pay their respects will congregate at the New Hamburg cenotaph at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. Wreaths will be laid by Tim Louis MP, Mike Harris MPP, Mayor Les Armstrong, and, for the first time in Wilmot, by an Indigenous veteran, Scott Norton. Rev. Bob Thaler will lead a short sermon, and a bugler will play The Last Post.

A similar ceremony will be held at New Dundee Community Park entrance on the preceding Saturday, Nov. 6.

On Oct. 22, the province announced that “Ontario…intends to allow for greater capacity at organized public events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies…with more details coming in the near future.”

That doesn’t leave much time to organize an in-person event, said Ross Eichler, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in New Hamburg, after discussing options with branch president Bob Miller.

He said, “We’re hoping for a good attendance from the community. I know it’s scaled back. However, we’re all there to remember our Veterans and show our respect and thanks for their service.”

Hosting a large indoor event, such as the traditional Remembrance Day service at the New Hamburg Community Centre, would be a logistical challenge during COVID.

“(The province) opened up for gatherings in arenas and so on, but we don’t have time to get that ready. How do you screen 800 people coming through the door?” wondered Eichler. “You’d have to start putting people in at 9 o’clock in the morning to get finished by 11.”

One of his biggest tasks each year is organizing the local Poppy drive. Hundreds of boxes of the iconic emblem have been distributed to businesses throughout Wilmot, and 8,000 mailers were sent to local homes.

According to The Royal Canadian Legion, Poppies shouldn’t be worn until the last Friday in October, and then removed either at the conclusion of a Remembrance Day service or at the end of Nov. 11.

Poppies are always given away free of charge and never sold, but members of the public can donate if they wish.

The $35,000 that was raised from 2020’s campaign was donated to local hospitals, as well as an initiative that provides service dogs for Veterans.

Dealing with frequently updated public health protocols isn’t limited to the New Hamburg Legion’s biggest annual event. Late last month, it announced on Facebook that from the beginning of November, it “will be open for camaraderie on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.”

The maximum indoor capacity will be restricted to 25 people to allow for physical distancing, but that will still provide some much-needed revenue.

After a recent storage shed break-in, the New Hamburg Legion will have to replace its patio tent poles, which were stolen.

“These were just purchased at a substantial cost to the branch, in readiness for next year’s patio season,” said Eichler in a statement that was sent to members. “If anyone sees or hears anything regarding the theft, please call Regional police. It would be great to apprehend the culprits.”

Eichler joined the local Legion 15 years ago so he could contribute to its service within the community. “You don’t need to be a veteran to belong,” he said.

“They do so many good things for different organizations, alongside the Lions and Optimists. They all kind of work together, and that’s very good.”