Hay River Legion building facing closure

Hay River Legion building facing closure
Tracy Cross-Gauthier, District 7 commander for the Royal Canadian Legion, says Hay River is one of many legions across the country facing low membership and financial difficulties.Photo: Maria Church.

Members of the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) branch in Hay River say their building is facing closure if they don’t find the money to pay for upkeep.

“We might have to sell the building because it costs lots of money to run this whole building and we don’t utilize the upstairs quite enough,” said Rachel Pegg, vice president of the Hay River Legion. “Now that it’s winter, fuel bills are high.”

The RCL is Canada’s largest veterans service organization with branches spread out across the country. Each branch is responsible for raising its own funds to operate, which is often done by renting out the space and holding events such as bingo nights.

Tracy Cross-Gauthier is the District 7 commander of the RCL, which encompases all five branches in the NWT. She said branches across the territory and even the country are facing similar challenges.

“The problems are pretty consistent throughout. The numbers of memberships are lowering, the population is getting older and the economy has had a huge effect on the attendance to legion functions,” she told The Journal.

Julien Lefebvre, president of the Hay River Legion on and off for the last 15 years, said it’s been years, but he can still remember a time when the whole town would show up to the legion for parties and events.

“In the old days if there was a function going, everybody in town was there pitching in,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be.”

Cross-Gauthier said that fundraising is a constant pursuit for all legions, but the NWT’s inconsistent liquor laws and bylaws often limit legions in what types of events they can hold.

Over the past years, there have been several changes made by the RCL nationally to attract more members; for example, requirements for members have eased up and voting privileges have been extended to all members.

“They are always trying to recruit young people and get some new, fresh blood into the organization. That’s a goal of the legion for sure,” Cross-Gauthier said.

She explained that the majority of the money from membership fees goes into a fund distributed by the Alberta-NWT Legion command for veterans and their families across the province and territory.

“A lot of people think that if you don’t go to the legion a whole lot then it’s not worth having a membership, but in fact it is the complete opposite. It’s a terrific way to show your support by purchasing a membership,” Cross-Gauthier said.

The Hay River Legion has around 200 members, most of whom are family members of those who’ve served and now passed away or who have a connection to the military through organizations like cadets.

Martha Lenoir, manager of the Hay River Legion, said even though they are facing the closure of their building, the volunteers are keeping the legion alive.

“We do have a few dedicated volunteers still,” she said. “We’re doing the best that we can.”

Lefebvre said the legion members are working on a plan to address the funding shortage, alluding to future events, but didn’t specify what those would be.

“I think it’s going to improve,” he said.

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