Legion thanked for history of hosting Canada Day

Ed Laird, second from right, was one of the original organizers of Canada Day celebrations in Prince Albert 53 years ago. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The Prince Albert Legion received a big thank you from the Historical Society during Monday’s riverbank Canada Day celebrations for taking the initiative to start a tradition that is still running strong 53 years later.

While this year featured two Canada day celebrations, one put on by the Legion in Kinsmen Park and one by the Multicultural Council on the riverbank, it was the work of a few dedicated individuals years ago that helped the community celebrations get to where they are today.

According to the historical society’s Fred Payton, in 1968, one year after big celebrations to mark 100 years of confederation, a member of the Legion named Jim Turner and fellow member Harry Mullins wanted to address the fact that there were no plans to follow up from the events of one year prior.

They asked Ed Laird, the Legion’s service officer and a one-time president of the local Legion branch if the Legion would sponsor a local celebration. The Legion stepped up, providing $2,000 to cover the organizational costs. The celebrations had live entertainment, races, ballgames, prizes, face painting and free ice cream cones. The event was hosted in Bryant Park, now Kinsmen Park. Entertainers volunteered for free, performing on tables pushed together to set up a makeshift stage.

The event became self-sustaining, relying on money raised from food sales at the event to cover the following year’s costs.

Two years later, in 1970, the federal government began to look for ways to promote local Dominion Day celebrations.

The holiday had been celebrated sporadically from coast to coast for some time, with big celebrations in Ottawa. But there wasn’t much support from the federal government for the regional fanfare.

Consultations were held across Canada to find out what communities were doing to celebrate the holiday.

One meeting was held in Moose Jaw. A member of the Prince Albert Legion attended and impressed the bureaucrats with what the city was doing. The following year, the government began offering interested Legion branches $1,000 to organize events in their communities.

‘The Legion has organized its celebration in Kinsmen Park for the 53rd time,” Payton said.

“Communities across Canada are celebrating in similar ways. We give thanks to our local Legion members, and especially to those four members, so willing to establish a new tradition in order to celebrate what has become Canada Day.

Laird proudly marched in the colours in Kinsmen Park Monday morning, playing a role in the Legion’s 53rd annual celebration. He thought back to the origins of Prince Albert’s celebrations.

“It was just Dominion Day. You got a holiday. There were no celebrations put on any place,” he said.

“We started this in 1966, having things for kids, such as sports, ballgames, sandwiches and hotdogs and popcorn.”

The event grew.

“it got really big,” Laird said. He acknowledged that not everyone stays in town to celebrate, that some head up to the lake or to go visit with friends and family in other communities.

‘They still celebrate where they are, flying a flag or wearing something to show they’re proud to be a Canadian,” he said.

While Laird was closely involved in the planning of that first celebration, for the past 30 years it’s been Brenda Cripps who has helped organize the Canada Day celebrations. The chair of the Canada Day committee said the Legion had lots of positive response about this year’s event.

She was glad to see several dozen people show up to Kinsmen Park by 10:45 in anticipation of the marching on of the colours.

“It’s awesome, it means something because of our veterans past and present,” she said.

‘It’s something we can do for the citizens of P.A., show them a good day. Come and spend it as a family day, there is something for everybody.”

For Laird, continuing the Canada Day tradition 53 years later is important.

“It’s a memory, a celebration of Canada,” he said.

“We’re so proud of Canada.”