Legion staffer remembers more than wartime

For Jack Lovell, 30 years of service as Pape Avenue Legion bartender has meant friendships with veterans from nearly all theatres of war. (Remembrance_JackLovellE)

It’s noon and the auditorium on the top floor of Legion Branch #10 is empty. Jack Lovell, 61, the legion’s bartender, steps on stage and pulls back the blue curtain hanging across the auditorium stage. He reveals a memorial wall, listing more than 1,200 names of former Legion #10 members, many of whom served in Canada’s armed forces in wartime. He pauses for a moment.

“When I look at this board I don’t just see a bunch of names. I see people I knew. I knew their families. I knew what they drank,” he said. He points to one of the names on the board. “Bill McKay. Rye and orange.”

Jack Lovell has deep-rooted connections to veterans. His father, John Lovell, served as an engineer in the Second World War. His grandfather, Frank Lovell, went overseas as an artilleryman in the First World War.

In 1970, Lovell’s backpacking in Europe led him to spending eight months in an Israeli kibbutz.

“(The kibbutz) dining room servers were holocaust survivors,” he said. “I saw the concentration camp numbers on their arms.”

The experience had a lasting effect on him.

“It brought what war is closer to home for me. I now felt I had a closer connection to it,” he said.

This connection led to his job at Legion #10. As the first non-veteran to tend bar at the branch, he didn’t exactly get the warmest welcome.

“One guy told me I wouldn’t last six months,” he said. “Then six months later, we became great friends.”

Thirty years later, he still offers a friendly hello, cracks jokes and will never forget a patron’s name.

It’s difficult for Lovell to pick just one favourite memory from his three decades at the branch. With membership numbers declining in recent years, he offered one regret.

“For years, you serve these guys their drinks. You hear all of their stories and you really get to know them,” he said. “Then all of a sudden they’re gone.”

He tried counting the number of familiar faces listed on the memorial wall he knew by name, but he had to stop when he got to 200. It became too emotional.

“My one regret from my time working here,” he said, “is that I never had the chance to say good-bye.”