Riding club focuses on community service and camaraderie

After four years of service in the 1970s, Jim Welsh says he left the Royal Canadian Navy with a sense of disillusionment.

“When I left it, the military was the furthest thing from my mind,” he says. “My first act on getting home was to roll up my uniform and throw it down the garbage chute.”

This changed five years ago when Welsh got involved with the local chapter of the Canadian Army Veterans Motorcycle Units — also known as CAV.

Founded in 2003, the CAV has chapters across the country. Designed to bring together military veterans who have an interest in motorcycles and riding, CAV also has a large focus on community service.

Each chapter participates in charity event rides and other fundraising activities to help support community organizations — in particular those that focus on veterans and their families.Members of the 3rd C.A.V. Motorcycle Unit gather to set up the Field of Crosses on Memorial Drive.

Photo by Riad Kadri

“I am proud to have served in the military, but for the longest time I wasn’t,” Welsh says. “This group awakened something in me.”

Welsh, now president of the CAV’s Calgary branch, adds that being involved in something that allows him give back to the community is amazing to him.

The bonds of past military experience and a commitment to community service bind the members together just as tightly as their shared love of riding does.

“We are not the movie image of bikers,” Welsh says. “We are not the Hell’s Angels.

“We are concerned about our community. And first and foremost, we are concerned about the veterans’ community here in Calgary.”

With 35 members — including several non-veteran “supporters” — the Calgary chapter of CAV focuses on supporting three projects: the Calgary Poppy Fund and Veteran’s Food Bank, the Calgary Military Family Resource Centre and The Military Museums of Calgary.

Murray Norrington (left) and Jim Welsh belong to the Calgary chapter  of the Canadian Army Veteran Motorcycle Units. The Calgary group is  known as the Ypres Unit. The name is taken from a World War I battle  that  occurred in Belgium.

Photo by Karry TaylorIn the days leading up to Remembrance Day, the group will hold “stuff this truck” events in two Walmart parking lots. These events collect food and financial donations for the Veteran’s Food Bank.

Welsh has also worked to get several local schools involved in putting out food donation boxes.

As part of their commitment to the Calgary Poppy Fund, the group also supports the Field of Crosses Memorial Project — an annual display of white crosses along Memorial Drive honouring fallen Albertan soldiers.

Each year, members of CAV set up the thousands of crosses attached to metal stakes.

Murray Norrington, a member of CAV and board member for Field of Crosses, says involvement in the memorial project means a great deal to the group.

“We are supporting our brothers,” Norrington says. “Each one of these crosses brings to me the expression, ‘but for the grace of God, there lie I.’”

Norrington, who served for six years in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, says he is most proud of the camaraderie of the group and their commitment to veteran’s causes.

“We ride and enjoy each other’s company but if something catches somebody’s attention, we will do whatever we can to help,” he says.

The group recently presented a cheque to a local cadet corps because they were struggling to pay their building rental fees.

Welsh says that as long as there are veterans in need, the group will continue to do what it can to help.

“The day that we don’t need to have a veteran’s food bank, we will shift our attention somewhere else.”

ktaylor@cjournal.ca

Related: Field of Crosses
Related: Calgary Poppy Fund and Veteran’s Food Bank assist struggling veterans