Within the coronary heart of downtown Regina, Royal Canadian Legion’s Regina Department 001 has offered communal area for Canadian army veterans because it was first chartered in 1926.
As we speak, it hosts a museum for Saskatchewan’s army tales and its doorways are open to any veteran struggling to file paperwork, discover correct medical assist and even non permanent housing when instances are robust.
The legion offers free, important walk-in companies for veterans in Regina — and but, the department needed to begin a GoFundMe marketing campaign final month to scrape collectively sufficient cash to remain open.
Department 001’s story is just not distinctive. Most members served within the Second World Battle and the Korean Battle. Many have now handed away, and it’s an ongoing problem to maintain the area open.
Throughout the nation, Royal Canadian Legion branches are dealing with the realities that include growing older member demographics.
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About half of the legion’s 270,000 members are aged 65 or over — a statistic that’s taking a toll on every part from filling poppy marketing campaign shifts to paying the month-to-month hire.
Ronn Anderson, president of the Manitoba and Northwest Ontario command, stated it’s a problem affecting metropolis and rural branches alike, with closures in small cities and large cities like Winnipeg.
“We’re having an issue inside the Royal Canadian Legion with our growing older inhabitants,” Anderson stated.
“We’re getting some youthful folks in however not sufficient to maintain our numbers up, and there are some branches that discover themselves in monetary problem as a result of they’re not getting the patronage they should stay open.”
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Thomas D. Irvine, the legion’s dominion president, stated Dominion Command in Ottawa is attempting to deal with the difficulty by modernizing older areas and reaching out to youthful veterans who could not assume the legion is for them.
“The underside line right here is the modern-day veteran doesn’t just like the older services, they need fashionable issues, they need one thing to have the ability to stroll into, for his or her households to do, to become involved in,” Irvine stated.
“Taking part in shuffleboard (is) probably not the fashionable day household exercise they need to get into.”
The character of the legion as a gathering place has additionally modified through the years, stated Irvine.
In earlier conflicts, troopers from the identical city would go to struggle and are available again dwelling collectively, making the legion a logical gathering area.
Now, Irvine says, it’s usually one individual from a city who joins the army alone and returns dwelling along with his or her colleagues unfold out throughout the nation.
That’s why Irvine is attempting promote putting in web at native branches to make it simpler for veterans to be in contact with their pals. Different modernization initiatives embrace selling on-line sign-ups and recreation rooms for youths.
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Whereas membership remains to be 75-per-cent veterans and their households, any Canadian is now in a position to turn into a member — however Irvine careworn veteran doesn’t have to be a member to stroll right into a legion for assist at any time.
And he’s optimistic that the efforts to modernize the legion are working, even when change is sluggish. Irvine stated thus far in 2018, the variety of membership losses is considerably decrease than in earlier years.
“The phrase’s getting on the market that we’re altering. The numbers are turning,” Irvine stated.
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However within the meantime, it’s laborious to maintain observe of which branches are being hit the toughest by dwindling membership. Irvine stated Dominion Command usually hears the tales on the information, as they don’t report back to Dominion Command.
One such story got here out of department 56 in St. John’s, N.L. this fall. A name for volunteers went out when 250 shifts to fill for the department’s annual poppy marketing campaign wanted to be stuffed.
The marketing campaign was successful, filling all however seven shifts. However department president Doug McCarthy stated it’s a recurring sample, and he’s heard related tales from close by branches reducing again on poppy marketing campaign shifts.
At one level, McCarthy says he was one of many youngest members of his department — whereas he was in his 60s.
“Yearly we wrestle to seek out enough volunteers to man all our areas,” McCarthy stated.
“It’s an age factor. Because the legion members become old, it’s harder for them to get out and get round.”
For locations just like the Regina Department 001, preserving the constructing open is tied to creating important companies out there.
Shedding the power to pay hire would imply closing the place the place veterans can go once they’re fighting habit, bodily and psychological well being challenges and even affording a bus ticket dwelling.
“You’re going to lose quite a bit, moreover the truth that there wouldn’t be the locations then for the veterans to show to,” stated operations supervisor Jody Hoffman.
“They need assistance and we need to assist them. So it’s essential that we keep open and hold our doorways open and keep sustainable so we will proceed to assist them any manner we will.”
Hoffman’s department is working laborious to remain open, like so many others throughout the nation.
For some smaller branches, the monetary hit from growing older membership has led to some robust selections.
In Ste. Anne, Man., this 12 months’s poppy drive would be the final placed on by legion Department 220, after 70 energetic years.
The department needed to promote its venue a couple of decade in the past, so making a living from renting the area was now not an choice.
Membership has dwindled to 14 folks, with conferences going down at completely different residences.
The members voted shut the department this 12 months, leaving the way forward for poppy drives and Remembrance companies within the city unknown.
“It’s slightly bit heartbreaking, however there’s different legions, too, which are having issues,” stated department president Martin Gabbs, a 35-year member.
“It’s going to be missed.”