Harold Monks and the Royal Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch #65

Signaller Harold Monks in 1918 just before he went to the Front

In 2019, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum has been looking at Clayoquot Sound’s WWI experiences. One Clayoquot Sound resident was Vargas Island rancher and later Tofino fisherman Harold Monks Sr. This spring, museum visitors had a chance to look through Harold Monks’ wartime photo album and memorabilia. Harold’s grand-daughter Stephanie Ann Warner has been exploring her Grandpa Monks’ military service and post-war Legion membership. She has discovered some stories about what the Royal Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Branch #65 was up to in the 1920s and 30s.

After Harold Monks returned from overseas service, he joined other returned men in Clayoquot Sound in forming a branch of the Great War Veterans' Association (later the Legion). The initial purpose of the Great War Veterans' Association (G.W.V.A.) and the Legion was to advocate for pensions and ensure that returned men got jobs. In Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History, Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy write that the Legion "took its responsibilities seriously, using its lobbying power to ensure returned veterans received jobs on the fisheries patrol, at the lifeboat station, or in other government-funded positions."

In 1920, Harold worked as winter crew at the Clayoquot Life Saving Service station (the "Lifeboat") and later become a full-time crew member, leading to retirement with a pension. In May - June 1920, Harold picked up 18 1/2 days work on the road-building crew, building a road between Tofino and Long Beach. Harold also used his war-time signaller training to get work as a relief telegraph linesman and telegraph operator. Other members of the Clayoquot Sound Branch of the G.W.V.A. worked on the Lifeboat or at the Kennedy River hatchery. Branch president Murdo MacLeod, wounded at Courcelette, became the fisheries officer. See our story on Murdo Macleod.

The G.W.V.A. also had an important social function -- to gather returned men together in reunions, armistice remembrances and community entertainment. The men needed a permanent meeting place. Harold Monks played an important role in the Clayoquot Sound Branch getting its own hall. In March 1922, the Branch took over the local public hall, which had been built pre-war by a group of shareholders. A number of shares were donated but the other 800 shares were purchased by G.W.V.A. members. Harold gave the Branch a loan at a nominal rate to allow it to purchase the shares. See the image below of a receipt for a November 1921 advance of $50 on the loan.

Receipt from the Great War Veterans Association for Harold Monks' loan of $50 on an advance of a larger loan to help build a community hall. Image from Harold Monks’ collection.

The Hall was known as the Clayoquot Sound Soldiers Memorial Hall and dedicated to those from the district who gave their lives in the Great War. The Hall was home to the memorial plaque to the men from the Clayoquot Sound district who gave their lives. Armistice Day services were held in the Hall, and the plaque was decorated by dahlias from the garden of local gardener and member Comrade J.W. Thompson.

The Hall was also the scene of annual reunions for the returned men. These evenings were far from sombre occasions! For example, the 1927 reunion began with service of the traditional army rum ration, followed by a mock recruits' parade, toasts, sing-song and humorous tales of camp life. About one hundred guests sat down to supper and were "entertained by the soldiers’ ditties and choruses, which were delivered with a swing and enthusiasm that was highly reminiscent of bygone days in Flanders." (The Daily Colonist, December 23 1927)

Every winter, the Branch hosted weekly whist drives and dances (and a series of billiard tournaments in winter 1929). These activities raised money to help pay off the Branch's expenses. There were only twenty-five members of the Branch but strong community support. By December 1928 the Branch was so financially sound that it had paid off $100 on its mortgage, had built a $350 extension and bought and paid for a $125 Orthophonic gramophone. A news report of the Branch's activities noted: "Items in [the] financial statement showed to a remarkable degree what can be done in a small community by a small number of men when all pull together in a common cause." (The Daily Colonist December 20 1928)

Harold Monks no doubt kept an eye on the Branch finances. He was elected an officer in 1930 and was auditor in 1932 (if not earlier). He was well suited to the role - for about seven years in England, Harold had been an accountant.

On May 2 1931, the Clayoquot Branch of the Canadian Legion celebrated one of the most important days in the history of the Branch when they paid off the final debt on their Hall. In the presence of two hundred local residents, Secretary Treasurer Major George Nicholson handed over the final payment to Harold Monks. The mortgage was torn up and given to two young sons of the oldest members of the Branch. The boys placed the mortgage on the flames of a fire built on stage! The Hall was dedicated by the Branch's chaplain, Comrade Reverend John Wright Leighton, who had seen imperial service in the Balkans. The Legion Concert Party then began an evening of "Song Dance and Drama".

The highlight of the event was an elaborate staging of a realistic military scene "The Guns in Action". Harold played a Gunner. He had much experience of big guns -- during the war he'd been attached to the 10th Battery, 3rd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. The producers of "Guns in Action" (all ex-servicemen) put a lot of effort into making the show as close to battlefield experience as possible. A "real life" 18 pounder gun was built especially for the occasion. A report in The Daily Colonist on March 9 1931 described the show in gory detail: "The gun was firing salvo upon salvo. The noise was terrific and exceedingly realistic, with the smoke of the gun firing in clouds across the stage, when all of an instant, a direct hit on the gun emplacement appeared to be made, the gun was blown up, and all the crew wounded or killed."

Stretcher bearers and army nurses tended the wounded (it was unclear if Harold Monks was one of the wounded or dead). A high powered spotlight ended the production, as one of the "nurses", Mrs Jack Mitchell, knelt by a wounded man and sang "The Great Red Dawn is Shining". After the curtain, the entire cast stood and, with rousing voices, sang "Pack Up Your Troubles in the Old Kit Bag".

Harold Monks continued his involvement with the Clayoquot Sound Branch of the Canadian Legion for the next 40 years. In 1956, Harold was awarded life membership, in recognition of his hard work in the Branch.

Harold Monks' Life Membership card to the Canadian Legion

Harold Monks was an active member of the Clayoquot Branch of the Great War Veterans' Association and Canadian Legion from the 1920s to 1970s. He received life membership in 1956

Harold's wife Katie Monks was also an active participant in the Legion Womens' Auxiliary. Their son Harold Frank Monks was also a strong supporter of the Legion.

The Legion is still an active Hall, often hosting special events as well as pool and dart nights, etc. To learn more about the Legion, see upcoming events, or to get involved, see their Facebook page

Guest article by curator of Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war, Stephanie Ann Warner.