Local Legion branches hoping to avoid permanent closure need your help
BROCKVILLE, ON -- Royal Canadian Legion halls across the country are the backbone for many rural communities.
They host weddings, stag and does, dances, and many more events, and use the money they raise to pay the bills, like hydro and insurance.
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, branches have been closed, drying up their revenue streams.
"We've done nothing since March. I closed the place on March 16," said Ralph McMullen, president of Branch 96 in Brockville.
McMullen is also the Zone G-2 commander, who oversees nine other branches in the district, from Gananoque to Westport.
"We're not faring any better than the smaller branches," McMullen said. "I've sent emails out to all the other branches and everybody is saying they are going to be all right hopefully until August. After that, it's a guessing game."
With the loss of revenue, some branches might be forced to close for good.
It is estimated that 124 of the 1,381 Legion branches across Canada are likely to close permanently, and another 357 are facing serious financial hardship.
McMullen says it could be worse
"The meeting command say they expect to lose 35 per cent of the branches across the country," he said.
The small town branches are at the most risk, as those Legions are the centre of rural communities.
"That's the only place they have meeting places for, for things like funerals and weddings and anything else. Once they're gone, they're gone. They won't be back," McMullen said.
Reaction from downtown Brockville was met with disappointment.
"The Legion was their place," says Craig, out for a walk along King Street. "A lot of these people, they are retired, and so the Legion provided that for them."
"My husband and I are members and we like to go there for lunch and play darts. It would be very sad if it closed," says Linda, enjoying lunch on a downtown patio.
Some branches reached out to the government to ask for financial aid, but found out they do not qualify, as the money available can only be put towards programs, and not rent or utilities.
"We're a 95-year-old organization, and in those 95 years we have prided ourselves on being self-sufficient. We have not reached out for funding," says Steven Clark, Royal Canadian Legion National Executive Director, in Ottawa, "but these are unprecedented times."
McMullen has reached out to local levels of government, making them aware of the situation and he says donations from the public will be happily accepted
"Gananoque, Mallorytown, Seeley's Bay, Lyndhurst, Toledo, Delta, Portland, Westport, they will all be glad to take donations," he said.
"If you want to see your branches stay in your community, help them out."