Being a member of the Canadian Legion has been a big part of Edward Tramer’s life for sixty-four years. He recalls when Legion halls served as the hub of social activity for the small prairie towns and farming communities dotting the vast expanse of open land westward from the Manitoba border to British Columbia.
Ed grew up near Stoughton, a town at the junction of Highways 13, 33, & 47 in Saskatchewan, about 90 miles southeast of Regina – and this location gave the village the name “The Crossroads of Friendship.” Ed, who is eighty-four, remembers joining the Legion in 1955, after a stint in the Canadian Navy. His memories reflect the attitude of collegiality that marked the town, and that period in Canadian history.
It was an entirely different time, he recalls. “Folks who attended the Saturday night dances weren’t a bunch of fancy people. They just wanted to dance and enjoy a good time.” Tramer describes the scene at the Legion where women sat on the benches placed along the walls while the men would stand at the back of the room, politely waiting to ask for a dance. There was no space for tables since the entire hall was dedicated to dancing. In Stoughton, or in Rocenville, Saskatchewan where Tramer worked as the bookkeeper for the local co-op store, New Year’s Eve dances at the Legion were the biggest event of the year. About 150 residents from the area, mostly from nearby farms would join in the festivities.
On Saturday night during World War II, three passenger trains would roll through the tiny prairie towns that were built along the cross-country railway tracks. The stationmaster would ring the bell so folks would know to go down to the station to see who was getting on and off the trains.
Today, octogenarian Tramer, a high-spirited raconteur whose manners are as charming as his tales of life on the prairies, lives in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. It’s northeast of Vancouver, a town of about 85,000, where Tramer moved to be near his daughter and his grandchildren. He still belongs to the Legion there, remarking that it’s “a fine hall with very active members.” Every Saturday, he and his friend walk over to the Legion to have lunch and a beer. “It’s an essential part of my week,” he says.
Tramer lives comfortably in a condo a few blocks from the Legion. Three years ago, he inquired about the CHIP Reverse Mortgage from HomeEquity Bank based on the equity he’d built in his home, and was approved. “What I figured would be the costs when I moved to British Columbia turned out to be much too low,” he says. “Without a reverse mortgage, I would not be able to stay in my home.” Tramer found out about the CHIP Reverse Mortgage from his local credit union. “I can’t see why a reverse mortgage wouldn’t work for a lot of people. It was a lifesaver for me.”
Heading east, I spoke to the son of Canadian war hero Bob Upcott. I met his son Dave Upcott at a dance in the gym at Kennedy Collegiate when I was a high school freshman, and he was a senior playing in the end zone for the school’s storied football team. In the 1960s in Windsor, Ontario, just as in Tramer’s 1950s, dances were the places were people met and mingled and sometimes fell for each other.
When I was that girl, we were barely aware that a World War II hero lived in our midst. Bob Upcott was a fighter pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but he flew more than 30 combat missions with the RAF during the war. Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, at Buckingham Palace, decorated Upcott for his bravery with the Distinguished_Flying_Medal for “exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.”
Along with his numerous combat missions, Upcott flew the Lancaster bomber, “The Bad Penny” that dropped food to the starving Dutch in 1945. Dave Upcott explains, “1945 was named ‘the year of hunger’ by the Dutch. The German army had flooded the dykes, destroying all the crops. People were eating tulip bulbs.”
Although the German army wouldn’t unconditionally agree to allow the RAF to drop food, it did agree to a pre-determined route, and that was the route that Bob Upcott piloted six times in 1945. “Dad flew his Lancaster bomber over German guns that followed the plane,” his son says proudly, “dropping food at a racetrack outside the Hague.” The mission was called Operation Manna, and it saved many lives. After the war, Upcott returned to Windsor, where he worked in the city’s Emergency Planning Department.
Although Remembrance Day was incredibly important to him, Dave says that his father, who passed in 2001, rarely spoke about the war. “He shunned notoriety, although he was revered by his air force buddies.” His son knew next to nothing about Operation Manna until he was in his thirties. Still, today, and especially on Remembrance Day, Dave says, “Windsor remembers what a hero my dad was.”
There’s even an illustrated children’s book about Upcott’s Operation Manna called A Bad Penny Always Comes Back.
As Canadians it’s important to take a moment to remember on November 11, I’ll be thinking of the veterans who put their lives on the line for our freedom and democracy, and then came home to build a better country.