‘Num­bers are turn­ing’

Dwin­dling le­gions chang­ing to draw in younger vets

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - HOLLY MCKEN­ZIE-SUTTER The Cana­dian Press

In the heart of Saskatchewan’s cap­i­tal, the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion’s Regina Branch 001 has pro­vided com­mu­nal space for Cana­dian mil­i­tary vet­er­ans since it was first char­tered in 1926.

To­day, it hosts a mu­seum for the prov­ince’s mil­i­tary sto­ries. Its doors are open to any vet 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 001’s story is not unique.

Most mem­bers served in the Sec­ond World War and the Korean War. About half of the le­gion’s 270,000 mem­bers are 65 or over — a statis­tic that’s tak­ing a toll on ev­ery­thing from fill­ing poppy cam­paign shifts to pay­ing the rent.

Ronn An­der­son, pres­i­dent of the Man­i­toba and North­west On­tario com­mand, said the is­sue af­fects 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,” An­der­son said.

“We’re 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 they’re not get­ting the pa­tron­age they need to re­main open.”

Thomas D. Irvine, the le­gion’s do­min­ion pres­i­dent, said Do­min­ion Com­mand in Ot­tawa is try­ing to tackle the is­sue by mod­ern­iz­ing older spa­ces and reach­ing out to younger vets.

“The bot­tom line here is the mod­ern-day vet­eran doesn’t like the older fa­cil­i­ties,” Irvine said.

“Play­ing shuf­fle­board (is) not re­ally the mod­ern-day fam­ily ac­tiv­ity they want to get into.”

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

He’s op­ti­mistic that ef­forts to mod­ern­ize are work­ing, even if change is slow. Irvine said the num­ber of mem­ber­ship losses in 2018 is no­tably lower than pre­vi­ous years.

“The word’s get­ting out there that we are chang­ing. The num­bers are turn­ing,” Irvine said.

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 they’re strug­gling.

“You’re go­ing to lose a lot, be­sides the fact that there wouldn’t be the places then for the vet­er­ans to turn to,” op­er­a­tions man­ager Jody Hoff­man said.

“They need help and we want to help them.”


Vet­er­ans Bernard Roy, Mike Fehr and Darcy Hal­la­day chat at the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, St. James Branch No. 4, in Win­nipeg.

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