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

Graffiti plagues downtown Maple Ridge

Often profane and offensive, says downtown BIA

‘Something needs to be done’, collision kills cyclist in Pitt Meadows Tuesday night

39-year-old man from Maple Ridge was pronounced dead at the scene

Maple Ridge council looking at 4.25 per cent tax increase

‘Pick list’ could increase or reduce spending during November’s budgeting

Maple Ridge firefighting camp empowers young women

Camp Ignite to take place at Justice Institute on Sunday, Aug. 9

‘Do our lives count for less?’: COVID-19 exposes cracks in disability aid

In July, Parliament approved a $600 payment for people with disabilities facing additional expenses during COVID-19

Agreement between province, BC Hydro, First Nation, ends legal fight over Site C

B.C. will work to improve land management and restore traditional place names in areas of cultural significance

BREAKING: Reported stabbing in Harrison Hot Springs

Police chase ran through Agassiz, witnesses say

Fraser Valley Bandits clinch first round bye with win

Bandits defeat Guelph 84-70, advance to the CEBL semifinals on Saturday

B.C. doctors, dentists call on province for mandatory mask rule

Open letter says masks should be worn in indoor public spaces, public transportation or in crowds

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

Facebook launches its new TikTok clone, Instagram Reels

Facebook has a long tradition of cloning competitive services

B.C. Appeal Court prevents Victoria woman from using the term ‘death midwife’ in her job

Pashta MaryMoon claimed she had been providing “death-care services” for more than 40 years

Most Read