Small but strong branch


At a time when many com­mu­nity ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions are find­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to main­tain their ex­is­tence, the Sgt. Levi Hol­lett Me­mo­rial Branch 39 of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion in Dildo is a sur­vivor. It con­tin­ues as a vi­able op­er­a­tion be­cause of mem­bers’ readi­ness to be in­no­va­tive when it faced a dis­mal fu­ture.

“ The setup we have here is quite unique,” pres­i­dent Ira Hal­f­yard toldThe Com­pass­last week.

From Whit­bourne to Dildo

The orig­i­nal branch was or­ga­nized in Whit­bourne in the late 1950s. How­ever, in an at­tempt at cen­tral­iza­tion, it was re­lo­cated to Blake­town in the early 1970s.

Poppy chair­man Eric Janes says it was im­pos­si­ble to main­tain the build­ing with the death of vet­er­ans. “ We were go­ing in the red more and more ev­ery day,” he adds.

The branch moved again, this time to Dildo, where it has been for the last three years. Its catch­ment area ex­tends from Heart’s De­light to Nor­man’s Cove.

The branch is named in mem­ory of Sgt. Levi Hol­lett, a Sec­ond World War vet­eran who lived in Blake­town. He won sev­eral awards, in­clud­ing the Croix de guerre and dis­tin­guished con­duct medal.

Unique ar­range­ment

Rather than erect a build­ing in Dildo, mem­bers de­cided to go a dif­fer­ent route by en­ter­ing into a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with Good Will Lodge No. 84 of the So­ci­ety of United Fish­er­men (SUF).

The branch now rents the down­stairs and has ac­cess to the up­stairs, in­clud­ing the kitchen and bar. Even the SUF holds the liquor li­cence.

“ The rent we’re pay­ing is a gift,” Janes says. The agree­ment is ne­go­ti­ated on a yearly ba­sis.

No bet­ter ar­range­ment could have been made, Le­gion­naires in­sist.

Janes at­tributes the branch’s strength to the “open arms of the SUF.”

The pro­ceeds from the sale of the build­ing in Blake­town were in­vested in or­der to gen­er­ate ad­di­tional rev­enue.

There are some 50 names on the mem­ber­ship ros­ter, but only 20 or so at­tend the monthly meet­ings. Mem­ber­ship chair­man Ge­orge Brown praises the ded­i­cated and hard-work­ing mem­bers, while Hal­f­yard says the “Le­gion is not a build­ing, but the peo­ple.” The branch is in­debted to vol­un­teers like 85year-old Ma­halla Reid of Old Shop who was once known as the “ heart­beat of the Le­gion,” he adds.

An ac­tive branch

The branch car­ries on a brisk slate of ac­tiv­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, it caters to four to five events an­nu­ally; spon­sors cadet corps; do­nates to the fire depart­ment and Trin­ity Con­cep­tion Pla­cen­tia Health Foun­da­tion; sup­ports the ceno­taphs in Heart’s De­light, New Har­bour, Dildo, Whit­bourne and Nor­man’s Cove; and co-or­di­nates the pro­vin­cial Re­mem­brance Lit­er­ary and Poster con­test. And that’s only part of what they do.

“It spreads us very thin when we all have to show up (at events),” says mem­ber Marj Hig­don.

Mem­bers are ful­some in their praise of the route their branch took in seek­ing to sur­vive.

“ This may be the way to go in the fu­ture,” Brown says. “Other branches are go­ing to have to look at it.” Those branches un­will­ing to co-op­er­ate with other or­ga­ni­za­tions will “ fall by the way­side,” he adds.

Long­time SUF mem­ber Ger­ald Smith calls the mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship a “per­fect sit­u­a­tion” that sets a “prece­dent other (or­ga­ni­za­tions) need to take heed to.”

Num­bers not grow­ing

Hig­don laments, “sad to say, our num­bers are not grow­ing.” Only six peo­ple have joined the branch in the last two years.

While stu­dents heav­ily sup­port Re­mem­brance Day events, all mem­bers want to see greater in­volve­ment by young peo­ple.

Janes won­ders if there’s a pub­lic mis­con­cep­tion about Le­gion mem­ber­ship. Any 18year-old Cana­dian is wel­come to join, he says. In­di­vid­ual branches, along with Pro­vin­cial and Do­min­ion Com­mand, must “push this is­sue,” he sug­gests.

Mean­while, he en­cour­ages branches to en­list the so-called “new” vets, in­clud­ing those who have served in Afghanistan.

Hal­f­yard speaks for all mem­bers when he says, “ When ev­ery­thing else is gone, Le­gions will still sur­vive.”

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