It was an evening to celebrate local accomplishments and dedicated service and it was a night to acknowledge supreme sacrifices made by Canadian troops in one of the most famous battles of the First World War.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a turning point for Canada as a nation and its importance was marked with words and prayers of remembrance on Saturday night when the Estevan Branch No. 60, Royal Canadian Legion conducted their annual Vimy Night Banquet and Awards evening.
The event attracted over 100 people to the Legion Hall where dozens lined up to accept their long service recognition pins and certificates of appreciation from the Estevan Legion branch, beginning with the 15-year pins and moving up by five-year increments.
A 60-year Legion pin was awarded to Jim Spenst who was not in attendance, nor were 55-year recipients Romuald Kawecki and Ladies' Auxiliary member Elaine Spenst. But the lone 50-year recipient, Ed Tafelmeyer, was on hand to accept his pin from club president Eileen Rosner and Legion awards representative Leo Saccary, as was 40-year recipient Bill Kapiczowski and 35-year recipient Colin Renwick. The lone 45-year pin recipient, Edgar Leadley, was unable to attend. Other 40-year pin holders are Brian Johnson and auxiliary members Alice Gervais, Florence Pho and Connie Wilker.
Additional 35-year pins were set aside for George Slotsve, Mel Hokanson and Audrey Cairns.
Long serving member John Gulak was presented with a life membership in the Legion by Peter Piper, past president of Provincial Command.
Certificates of appreciation were presented to Dean Erickson and Jean Oshmak. Erickson was singled out for his work at producing a video collage of Legion members and veterans that has been used for the past two years at Remembrance Day ceremonies while Oshmak was thanked for her dedication and assistance with the weekly bingo events at the Legion, even though she is not a Legion member.
Gulak, who received the life membership, is an associate member of the Legion and has been for over 30 years and is starting his third term on the executive committee. He has served two years on the poster, poems and essays committee and has volunteered to work at bingos and is a willing worker at all other Legion functions including parades and Christmas deliveries as well as selling poppies and serving at banquets and acting as bartender and ticket seller.
“John is willing to work at any function the Legion holds,” said Rosner. That includes general business and executive meetings. Gulak was the recipient of a Certificate of Merit from the branch in 2008.
During the course of the evening, Estevan Mayor Gary St. Onge said he always felt comfortable in the Legion because of the atmosphere that prevailed and the good people who were found within the organization.
“We can't say too often how important the Legion is to us. You raise funds that go directly back to the community. The City has always known they can come to the Legion for help,” he said.
Past president David Laing said that due to the length of the awards ceremony, the Vimy Night event would not feature a guest speaker, but he did remind those in attendance that it was still important to acknowledge the lengthy battle fought over 95 years ago in France that absorbed the full attention of four Canadian troop divisions consisting of 100,000 men from all parts of Canada. They won the battle in a brutal trench warfare event, doing something that British and French forces had failed to accomplish in previous attempts in 1914 and 1916. The Canadians broke through the German Army's most strategic and best defended stronghold at Vimy Ridge and the Canadian's efforts earned them world attention. This was considered to be a turning point in acknowledging Canada as a sovereign nation. The cost was 10,602 wounded and 3,958 Canadian lives lost over several days of battle that began April 9, 1917.