Kelowna Royal Canadian Legion branch donates $100000 to JoeAnnas House project

Kelowna Royal Canadian Legion branch donates $100000 to JoeAnna\s House project
Aging, dwindling legions look to halt long decline
For the first time in years, Royal Canadian Legion La Verendrye Branch No. 220 will not hold a Remembrance Day ceremony this Sunday.

And there won't be any in the future, either — the La Verendrye Legion branch, in the small town of Ste. Anne, Man., has announced that at the end of this year, it will shut down for good.

The legion actually sold its building 10 years ago. And this year, it doesn't have a space for a Remembrance Day ceremony, said branch president Martin Gabbs.

"It's a hard pill to swallow," he said. "We started a couple of years ago talking about it, and this year we finally decided to shut 'er down and surrender our charter."

It's one of many small-town legions across Canada left with little choice other than to shut down in the face of declining membership and aging members.

"We haven't been able to recruit any new members" said Gabbs, who will be the final president for the branch in Ste. Anne, about 45 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

Currently there are only 14 members with the branch, and most are part of its executive committee. Membership has declined a lot in the past years, said Gabbs — when he joined there were at least 50 members.

While there is no Remembrance Day ceremony this year — the branch has used a local church in recent years, but can't this year because Remembrance Day falls on a Sunday — the legion branch is still running its poppy campaign, one last time.

"We put our poppies out to regular venues and once that's done and it's all collected, whatever money comes in from that gets donated, and then right after that we basically surrender our charter and that'll be the end," he said.

We're working very hard at building our membership.… It just hasn't helped in all cases.- Ronn AndersonMany veterans use the legion as a place to socialize and make friends. Gabbs is no different.

"They're all close friends and we got to know each other through the legion, and I've known some of them before that," he said.

Ronn Anderson is president of the Royal Canadian Legion Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Command. He says he's sad to hear that the La Verendrye legion is surrendering its charter, but it's not surprising. 

"We're working very hard at building our membership.… It just hasn't helped in all cases," he said. 

"For several years now we haven't gotten the younger members in, and of course, our core membership is increasing in age," said Anderson.

Veterans from the Second World War are in their 90s, and veterans from the Korean War are in their late 80s, he notes.

"I believe in the legion and I believe in what we do, and the honouring of our veterans and the remembrance programs to ensure that people don't forget that there were a lot of people who gave up their time and effort in order to protect this country."

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

Veterans look on as other members play snooker at The Royal Canadian Legion, St. James Branch No. 4 in Winnipeg.

In the heart of downtown Regina, Royal Canadian Legions Regina Branch 001 has provided communal space for Canadian military veterans since it was first chartered in 1926.

Today, it hosts a museum for Saskatchewans military stories and its doors are open to any veteran struggling to file paperwork, find proper medical help or even temporary housing when times are tough.

The Legion provides free, essential walk-in services for veterans in Regina – and yet, the branch had to start a GoFundMe campaign last month to scrape together enough money to stay open.

Branch 001s story is not unique. Most members served in the Second World War and the Korean War. Many have now passed away, and its an ongoing challenge to keep the space open.

Across the country, Royal Canadian Legion branches are facing the realities that come with aging member demographics.

About half of the Legions 270,000 members are aged 65 or over – a statistic thats taking a toll on everything from filling poppy campaign shifts to paying the monthly rent.

Ronn Anderson, president of the Manitoba and Northwest Ontario command, said its an issue affecting city and rural branches alike, with closures in small towns and big cities like Winnipeg.

We are having a problem within the Royal Canadian Legion with our aging population, Mr. Anderson said.

Were getting some younger people in but not enough to keep our numbers up, and there are some branches that find themselves in financial difficulty because theyre not getting the patronage they need to remain open.

Thomas D. Irvine, the Legions dominion president, said Dominion Command in Ottawa is trying to tackle the issue by modernizing older spaces and reaching out to younger veterans who may not think the Legion is for them.

The bottom line here is the modern-day veteran doesnt like the older facilities, they want modern things, they want something to be able to walk into, for their families to do, to get involved in, Mr. Irvine said.

In earlier conflicts, soldiers from the same town would go to war and come back home together, making the Legion a logical gathering space.

Now, Mr. Irvine says, its often one person from a town who joins the military alone and returns home with his or her colleagues spread out across the country.

Thats why Mr. Irvine is trying promote installing Internet at local branches to make it easier for veterans to keep in touch with their friends. Other modernization initiatives include promoting online sign-ups and game rooms for kids.

While membership is still 75 per cent veterans and their families, any Canadian is now able to become a member – but Mr. Irvine stressed that a veteran does not need to be a member to walk into a Legion for help at any time.

And hes optimistic that the efforts to modernize the Legion are working, even if change is slow. Mr. Irvine said so far in 2018, the number of membership losses is significantly lower than in previous years.

But in the meantime, its hard to keep track of which branches are being hit the hardest by dwindling membership. Mr. Irvine said Dominion Command often hears the stories on the news, as they dont report to Dominion Command.

One such story came out of branch 56 in St. Johns, Nfld. this fall. A call for volunteers went out when 250 shifts to fill for the branchs annual poppy campaign needed to be filled.

The campaign was a success, filling all but seven shifts. But branch president Doug McCarthy said its a recurring pattern, and hes heard similar stories from nearby branches cutting back on poppy campaign shifts.

At one point, Mr. McCarthy says he was one of the youngest members of his branch – while he was in his 60s.

Every year we struggle to find sufficient volunteers to man all our locations, Mr. McCarthy said.

Its an age thing. As the Legion members get older, its more difficult for them to get out and get around.

For places like the Regina Branch 001, keeping the building open is tied to making essential services available.

Losing the ability to pay rent would mean closing the place where veterans can go when theyre struggling with addiction, physical and mental health challenges or even affording a bus ticket home.

Youre going to lose a lot, besides the fact that there wouldnt be the places then for the veterans to turn to, said operations manager Jody Hoffman.

They need help and we want to help them. So its very important that we stay open and keep our doors open and stay sustainable so we can continue to help them any way we can.

In Ste. Anne, Man., this years poppy drive will be the last put on by Legion Branch 220, after 70 active years.

The branch had to sell its venue about a decade ago, so making money from renting the space was no longer an option.

The members voted close the branch this year, leaving the future of poppy drives and Remembrance services in the town unknown.

Its a little bit heartbreaking, but theres other Legions, too, that are having problems, said branch president Martin Gabbs, a 35-year member.

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