1. Home
  2. /
  3. Featured
  4. /
  5. The Role of Cemetery...

The Role of Cemetery Chairman for the Fort Erie Legion, Frontier Branch 71 Has Changed Hands

Christine Whelan FEO, November 9, 2023, VOL. 5 ISSUE 5

Jack Cox talks about his time with the Legion — his memories and acknowledgments.

Cemetery Chairman for the Royal Canadian Legion, Frontier Branch 71, Jack Cox, has decided to pass on the experience of the role. “After 58 years, I thought it was time to give it up.”

Now 88 years old, Jack was finding that his arthritis was getting in the way of being able to keep up with the recordkeeping. “I pretty well had to give up writing so I’m glad Mark took it over.”

Mark Strasser, the current Branch 71’s 2nd Vice President and new Cemetery Chairman, is good with computers and is digitizing all the records, Jack and Lesley both noted.

Jack added, “Mark met with me a bunch of times before he took over to find out what’s going on.”

Prepared for our conversation around his kitchen table a couple of weeks ago, Jack referred to the notes he had written out for me ahead of time.

John (Jack) Richard Cox, Sr. was born May 2, 1935. As his notes informed me, after completing Grade 10 at Fort Erie Secondary School, he walked over to the C.N. Rail Yard Office and started working right away. He stayed with the C.N. Rail for seven years, then joined the Revenue Canada, Customs and Excise, serving 33 years as a uniformed Canada Customs Officer at the Peace Bridge.

He married his “wonderful wife”, Victoria, or as he often lovingly called her during our interview, Vicky, on September 29, 1956, and had 64 years of “a great married life”.

During these 64 years, Jack and Vicky had four boys in five years and one daughter. Vicky passed away a couple of years ago. Their kids still call him or visit him regularly these days.

“In my spare time, I joined the Fort Erie Volunteer Fire Co., Station #1, as a volunteer firefighter for 20 years. I was a secretary for 16 years, chief driver for two years, chief fire prevention officer for 15 years,” quoting his notes.

With the Legion

During Jack’s 67 years with Branch 71 Royal Canadian Legion, he has been acknowledged with awards by the Provincial Command.

“June 1, 2001, after about ten years of being on the Cemetery Committee, they awarded me the Meritorious Service Metal. It’s the highest Legion award in Canada.” The award hangs in the hallway of his home.

“On June 25, 2009, they gave me the Palm Leaf for continued service. The Palm Leaf goes on the lapel. That’s the final award.”

In 2023, “I attended a meeting at the Branch where I was presented with a beautiful framed unit for all of my badges.

There were ceremonies for each award presented.

During these years, Jack spent three years as President of Branch 71.

Experiences Remembered

When asked about memories that stand out for Jack, he shared, “The best for me, when the veterans have died, I meet with the families. Each one who went in our columbarium, you know, the ashes, we all went out, in uniform, and put the ashes in. That has really made me feel good over the years. That’s my main thing, meeting with the families, and helping out.”

He continued, “We had the one columbarium, the Town helped us out with that. We raised about $11,000 and the Town put in the other $11,000 needed.”

A columbarium is a structure for the reverential and usually public storage of funerary urns holding the cremains of those who have passed on.

“After it started to get filled up, we weren’t able to raise any more money, so we turned to the Town. We got the new one up now.” The second columbarium has space available for veterans and their spouses.

Jack talked about an important aspect of his role, “With some of the veterans, I have found out from the spouses, that nothing was discussed beforehand. Nothing about a funeral, nothing about a grave or columbarium.” The spouses are sometimes left not knowing what to do.

Jack’s message to the community is, “When you are getting up in age, or even before, sit down and talk. Talk about what you want done. In a casket or to be cremated. And then the family knows.”

Lesley Kinghorn, a member of Branch 71 and Public Relations Officer with the Legion for years helps members like Jack, and now Mark. She commented that many young people see the Legion as the ‘old boys’ club’. She admitted that, in many ways, it still is. “But we need young people to realize that it is a great organization to be a part of.”

Both Leslie and Jack agreed that they don’t see a lot of young veterans in the Legion.

Jack said, “We’re trying to break that ‘old boys club’ image.”

The Legion

Lesley wanted the community to know, “For us, everyone who served is welcome. Peacekeepers — who are no longer called peacekeepers, but natal troops — are welcome.”

Peacekeepers are soldiers who are sent in unarmed. This no longer happens.

Lesley continued, “We have entertainment and chicken wings every Saturday night. Karaoke Friday nights. Fish fry. And you do not have to be a member to come in and enjoy. We are open to the public for every event we hold.”

Jack added, “We call it an open-door policy. Anyone can come in.”

From Branch 71 of the British Empire Service League of the Canadian Legion, October 30, 1926, to 1945, service veterans met in the building which stood at 37 Bertie Street, at the foot of the hill, where now stands a white apartment building. In 1948, the Bertie Street building became the Bertie Street Library as the Legion moved to the old town hall, originally the Crystal Palace Barracks, on Queen Street from 1946 to 1989.

The new building at 130 Garrison Road opened in 1989. “The cornerstone from the original town hall is now a proud part of the Garrison Road – Central Avenue facility.” A November 17, 1992 article in the Fort Erie Times Review noted.

The building and its membership were officially renamed the Royal Canadian Legion, Frontier Branch 71 in 1961.

To speak with Mark Strasser, Cemetery Chairman, call the Legion Office at (905) 871-8682.

Photo by J. Wilkinson

There are no upcoming events at this time.