Plaques of past presidents hang on the walls at The Royal Canadian Legion, St James Branch No. 4 in Winnipeg, Thursday, November 8, 2018. A number of Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country have launched online fundraising efforts to keep their doors open after suffering financial setbacks because of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

‘Falling like dominoes’: Pandemic could lead to closure of 10% of Canada’s legions

Data shows 167 out of 1,381 legions have applied for CEBA

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

At least 10 per cent of legions in Canada will be forced to close permanently in the next few months unless there’s financial intervention, the Royal Canadian Legion’s national headquarters fears.

Shuttered amid the pandemic, legion branches have struggled to pay overhead costs and manage day-to-day operations, says communications manager Nujma Bond.

While federal emergency funds are made available for non-profit organizations through either the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) or the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF), eligibility criteria for both aid packages restrict most legions from applying for funding.

“We’re the heartbeat of communities we cater to, but we’re slipping through the cracks,” said Jerry Lava, president of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario’s legion operations.

“Our branches will keep falling like dominoes if they don’t receive appropriate help right now.”

Data shows 167 out of 1,381 legions have applied for CEBA. Only 55 have received funding.

None of Canada’s legion branches has qualified for ECSF funding since eligibility criteria includes projects specifically related to COVID-19.

Legion Dominion president Thomas Irvine has twice written to the prime minister to denounce the gaps in emergency funding but has yet to receive an official reply, said Bond.

Asked about emergency aid for legions recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Veterans Affairs department is working on it, but he did not provide details.

“Normally, branches can rely on revenues from events, hall rentals, food service and the like,” said Bond. “Many of them have had to turn to non-traditional ways to raise funds in order to keep the lights on, from bottle drives to drive-through food service, to Go-Fund-Me initiatives.”

While some legions are slowly starting to reopen, Bond said they face tight restrictions and high costs to comply with provincial health directives.

“Sustaining this, combined with lower revenues,” she said, “may be impossible for some.”

In Winnipeg, where there are more legions per capita than in any other Canadian city, South Osborne treasurer Doug Fisher said it hasn’t felt the same since they reopened.

“It’s definitely been a struggle,” he said. “We can’t operate our halls in full capacity. We can’t hold the same kind of events with bingo and parties… and we can’t use our VLT machines the way we could before.”

“I’ve been a member for over 40 years and I’ve seen nothing like this.”

Naomi Vermette, manager for South Osborne Branch .252, said even their regulars haven’t returned.

“People often assume legions are like an all-boys club,” she said. “But once they come here, they understand how much fun you can have and how important it is to the community.”

“It’s sad that people feel scared maybe to return.”

Stephane Guindon, West Kildonan Legion’s president, said his location has experienced much the same.

“A big dent we faced was still paying our utility bills during the three months that we were closed,” he said. “I just wish someone from government said at that point, `Hey, look, legions do a great job and we should help them.’ But no one did.”

Lava said: “We need to keep fighting” to sustain the country’s legions. Legions are the first line of community for those that have fought for our country. This is how we give back to them for what they gave us.”

CoronavirusRoyal Canadian Legion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City purchases new snowblower for $44,000 under budget

Revelstoke replacing 2009 loader attachment with a new one

Revelstoke prepares for first public hearing since pandemic

Controversial Hay Rd. development public hearing scheduled for Sept. 17

‘Cheesy’ food truck opens in Revelstoke

Menu items include spicy Italian, buffalo wing and chicken bacon ranch grilled cheeses

Revelstoke council approves $16,000 in grants

Community organizations receive facility rental credit and some receive cash

VIDEO: Revelstoke rallies to save snared eagle

Local climber scales tree to save the raptor

Video: SUV burns alongside the highway near Salmon Arm

Footage of the burning vehicle was posted to Youtube.

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Federal Conservative leadership candidate skirts COVID-19 rules at Kelowna rally

Derek Sloan held a rally in Kelowna that had more than 50 people, which is against health orders from the province

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

South Okanagan restaurant ranked among world’s best by TripAdvisor

The Hooded Merganser was ranked within the top 10 per cent of all restaurants by TripAdvisor reviews

Highway 97 upgrade option for Peachland faces 20-year delay

Peachland council disappointed by highways department decision

Most Read