“You don’t feel like you are alone in your journey,” said one Veteran. “I have not felt this relaxed in a very long time,” said another.
Telling remarks from participants in the Heroes Mending on the Fly program, a national program wholeheartedly supported by the Legion both in concept and through its Poppy Trust Fund, which exists thanks to donations from generous Canadians. It means there is no cost to Veterans who attend the program for the first time.
Many participants say it leaves them changed forever—no exaggeration required to tell this fish story.
Imagine heading out on a boat across calm blue water. Listening to the fly drop on the liquid surface, or simply casting a line and hoping for the best. The actual fishing outcome hardly matters—the setting, companionship and peace are what truly help heal.
“The rivers talk to them, nature brings them in,” says Gervais Jeffrey, the program’s National Director who first started the program in partnership with fly-fishing organizations. It now runs independently. He says fly-fishing helped him after his return from serving in Afghanistan. He thought it could help other soldiers too.
Lou and Donna attended as a couple; Lou believes it is critical that the version he attended welcomed spouses. “The military, although getting much better, mostly treats the member, and the spouse tends to be on the outside looking in for a lot of the support programs,” he says. “It is truly nice to see them getting recognized as the first responders that they are, for without them our numbers would be fewer.”
Some who attended alone described the trepidation before joining the group, others, the isolation felt while sitting at home for hours at a time. Attending the program brought relief.
"This outing with ex-military personnel reminded me of the good old days, being in the company of people who have shared the same experiences as me," said Daniel.
From boating in good weather, to food, laughter and new friendships. It all converged in a profusion of newfound feelings for many. Including feelings of being “at home.”
"It's good for the soul to see people who give from the heart to help Veterans participate in the activities put in place through the program," said Keven. "Spending time on the water and fly-fishing helps me refocus and find peace within myself... and focus on the important things in life."
“These are relationships that you know you can trust as we are all in the process of healing,” say Lori and John, a couple. While they learned how to cast and tie, they really reveled in time spent with old friends and making new connections.
Gervais Jeffrey recounts the story of one Veteran who was on the path to suicide but changed direction radically after joining. He is now heavily involved in the program which was established in 2009.
“It’s an outdoor program, the outdoors has always been shown to be soothing,” says Jeffrey. “Fly tying and fly casting helps with concentration and motor skills. There’s socialization, and people talk about their experiences—but there are no judgments, they are not forced to talk.”
Close to 300 people attended Heroes Mending on the Fly in 2019 alone, and the program is always evolving. There is talk of additional courses welcoming Veterans’ spouses and children.
To request more information or become a volunteer, please visit:
Organizations providing similar programs for Veterans can consider applying to the Legion for financial support through its Poppy Trust Fund: https://legion.ca/remembrance/the-poppy-campaign/funding-for-organizations