'It’s devastated us': COVID-19 could be the last straw for some legions in Winnipeg
WINNIPEG -- The very first Royal Canadian Legion opened it’s doors here in Winnipeg nearly a century ago.
But over the last few years, the number of legions across Canada has dropped, and the onset of COVID-19 may be the final straw for struggling legions.
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 90 in Winnipeg has been standing since 1945.
Garry Reid, treasurer of the branch said the building has seen a lot in those years, but it might not be able to fight off COVID-19.
“Quite frankly, it’s devastated us,” said Reid. “It falls on the heel of a sewer back up we had that cost almost $100,000 worth of damage to our basement.”
Reid said COVID-19 is just more bad news for the legion branch.
“I think it’s going to create a reluctance of people to come back here rapidly, and in the numbers that we need to survive,” said Reid.
Prior to COVID-19, Reid said many legions were suffering due to low attendance, and low membership numbers.
Marc Pelletier, President of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 252 said his branch took advantage of Ottawa’s Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA).
He said the $40,000 loan helped keep them above water, and phase three of re-opening happened just in time.
“I think if the close down had extended more than six months we would have been more in danger,” said Pelletier.
He said the province’s decision to allow them to operate their VLT’s, and welcome more people inside has put them in better shape.
He said Winnipeg has more legions per capita than most city’s.
“Even though some legions may be at risk of closing down, their members still have a place to go,” said Pelletier. “There’s lots of legions in a very close proximity.”
Reid said developers have already approached Branch 90 to enquire about buying the space.
He said members are considering it because the building is old, and the lack of members is an issue.
“We either modernize with a new building, we amalgamate with another branch, or we distribute the funds to other branches. But the membership decides.”
Reid said Branch 90 has one of the biggest poppy drives in the province, and funds raised go to charitable programs that help support veterans in the community.
He doesn’t want to see their good work come to an end.