Almost every Legion branch in Canada is involved in one or more youth programs. It may be sponsoring a local sports team, a cadet corps or a scout troop. It may be youth leadership training or other programs that meet the needs of youth in the community. Whatever the program, the Legion’s annual spending on youth exceeds $3.3 million and the donation of over 283,000 volunteer hours.
The Legion wants our youth to know that the freedoms they enjoy did not come without a price.
The annual Remembrance Poster and Literary Contest challenges our youth to think about
the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives to preserve our freedom. Pilgrimages to foreign battlefields and cemeteries for youth leaders also perpetuate Remembrance. The Legion takes part each year in hundreds of Remembrance ceremonies at schools in every province and territory.
The Legion, through its branches, supports the Terry Fox Centre “Encounters With Canada” program that brings 100 students a week for 30 weeks a year from across Canada together for studies on Canada. Legion provincial commands and branches also provide bursaries and scholarships for those in university or graduating from high school. Funds are also provided to schools to purchase learning aids for the disabled.
The Legion supports the cadet movement in Canada to promote leadership, fitness and the spirit of patriotism by sponsoring hundreds of cadet corps and scouting or guiding organizations across the country. Many units participate in the Legion’s Biathlon Program
in which competitions combining cross-country skiing and marksmanship are conducted in conjunction with Biathlon Canada.The Legion provides leadership and facilities; spends thousands of dollars
on bursaries and scholarships; conducts poster, literary and public speaking contests and sponsors the Legion Medal of Excellence which many branches and commands provide to honour outstanding cadets.
The Royal Canadian Legion first got involved in community service in the 1940s when it launched
the “Foster Fathers” program to help boys who had been left fatherless by World War II. Legion leaders soon recognized the enormous opportunity that existed for veterans to develop leadership qualities among youth and community sports was one obvious and natural way with which this could be achieved.
In 1956, eager to adopt a national sports program, the Legion threw its support behind a successful endeavour conducted by the Ontario Legion Hydro Branch 277 called The Canadian Olympic
Training Plan. This program brought athletes and coaches together at the Canadian National Exhibition facilities in Toronto to train for track and field events. In 1957, the Legion took on financial support of the plan which has since become Canada’s only championship meet and training camp for 12 to 17 year-olds.
The program, highlighted by the annual Legion National Track and Field Championships and training sessions, has been described by national and provincial associations as one of the best meets in the country. About 400 young Canadians, coaches and chaperones attend the week-long event which has been held at locations across the country since 1976. About 90 volunteers run the competition while Athletics Canada qualified professionals conduct clinics after the meet. Athletes receive the finest coaching available.
More than 500 Legion branches participate in and coordinate the Legion National Track and Field Championships for 12 to 17 year-olds. Athletes progress through local and provincial competitions to qualify for the event where approximately 330 of Canada’s best young athletes compete and train. Many have gone on to compete and win at World and Olympic Championships.
One-third of the Canadian track and field athletes and all Canadian medal winners at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were alumni of the Legion's track and field camps (now known as The Legion National Track and Field Championships) and many other Canadian athletes, including Wayne Gretzky, participated in sports programs sponsored by the Legion.
The Legion Track and Field Program is designed to provide training - leading to competition at the national level - for young athletes. It provides the opportunity to visit other parts of Canada and
mix with athletes, coaches and trainers from across the country. The program serves to encourage participants both as athletes and as citizens of Canada. It is designed to foster a sense of personal and civic pride as well as athletic achievement. In addition to the national program, several branches and provincial commands sponsor track and field activities on a year-round basis.
In 1985 the program was expanded to include coaches' qualifying courses. With the cooperation of Athletics Canada and the Canadian Association of Coaches, highly qualified officials from across Canada now conduct training sessions and take part in the clinics for young athletes.
Estimates place the total Legion commitment to track and field activities at well over
$2 million annually.