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News - All - 7 Sep 2020

News Item 37 of 4763 

Miscellaneous: 7 Sep 2020
'If we had to lease, we would be out of money by now': Waterloo region branches of Royal Canadian Legion suffer from COVID-19 effects

An image of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 532 in New Hamburg. - Jessica Towriss

On normal summer days, Waterloo's branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 530, would be vibrant, loaded with people enjoying food, drinks, and activities.

In 2020, things are different, though, and like almost every other organization, the local legion has faced financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert Berg, president of the Waterloo legion, said that the patio reopened two weeks ago, while the indoor venue won’t reopen until Sept. 14, with physical distancing measures in place. The Waterloo legion owns its building at 316 Marsland Dr., and that has resulted in some financial security, said Berg.

“We have managed to maintain a small nest egg,” said Berg in an interview with The Waterloo Chronicle on Aug. 11.

Last Wednesday, it was announced that Ontario’s legions would qualify for part of $83-million funding through the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The money is aimed at helping non-profit organizations fundraise and recruit volunteers.

In an article published by Ottawa's branch of the CTV, Ontario Command President Gary Pond said the funding is helpful, but won’t help issues that need to be addressed, including rent, mortgage, and hydro bills.

Berg said the funding won’t help the Waterloo branch or the legion as a whole. He won't be applying for the funding, as he said the Waterloo branch is fine financially at the moment.

He added that the funding applies more for the charitable portions of the branch, which aren't taking in much money right now anyway.

“Our money is not coming in for it to go out; if it was to help us, it would be able to help us in a way we could do more for the community,” said Berg.

Berg said each branch has a charitable fund under the Poppy Fund.

As part of the branch's reopening plan, activities such as darts and shuffleboard won’t be allowed to be played for some time. Berg believes it will be a year, or until a vaccine is developed before those events will be held again at the local legion.

New Hamburg Legion Branch 532

Much speculation has been made around the future of the New Hamburg Legion, Branch 532. But according to Bob Miller, president of the branch, it isn't in danger of closing any time soon, despite revenue loss.

Branch 532, which began in 1951, has had its doors closed since March when the coronavirus pandemic began to escalate.

Terry LeDrew, public relations officer with Branch 532, highlighted in a letter to the Independent that the legion remains “financially solvent” for the near future.

Not every legion has that fate, though, Miller said, adding that the fact they own the building in New Hamburg provides an added benefit and a bit more security financially.

Miller isn’t sure about the Ontario funding for Branch 532, and how it's all going to work. He needs to learn more from the local zone commander in terms of next steps on applying for it.

The legion has missed out on several events in 2020 that normally bring in revenue, including Moparfest, Canada Day, the New Hamburg Fall Fair, and the Ontario Dart Tournament. All have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

The tented outdoor patio of the legion, which is open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., has provided some financial relief, and was allowed to run as part of Phase 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan in early June. The indoor portion of the building has yet to open, despite being permitted to as part of Phase 3.

Support for the legion has been great, according to Miller, who said it had 150 visitors recently.

As outlined by Marie Voisin in a recent letter, dwindling memberships has been an issue as well. The number has dropped from 240 a few years ago to 193 now.

Declining membership is not the only issue, according to LeDrew, who said that finding volunteers has become more difficult recently.

“We would encourage the community to learn more about the Royal Canadian Legion and the New Hamburg branch, how we contribute to the community, and opportunities to volunteer,” he said in the letter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all Canadians, and many Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country are in jeopardy of closing due to the financial strain. We are fortunate at this time that we are not one of them.”

Cambridge Legion Branch 121

Like the New Hamburg and Waterloo legion, Galt’s branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 121, isn't leasing the property.

“If we had to lease, we’d be out of money by now,” said Fred Sutton, vice-president of the Galt branch.

“We’re finding it very hard to get people to come back, because they're still worried about getting this COVID-19 and being in crowded areas,” said Sutton in an interview on Aug. 10.

He said the reopening of the legion recently hasn’t been lucrative so far, as attendance hasn’t been great. Sutton explained that a lot of legion members are in the high-risk category, while younger people don’t necessarily come to the legion much, unless it’s for sports, which are not currently running.

He added that the Galt legion has been pretty financially strong, so they’ve been able to withstand the four-month closure.

“If this continues how it's going, we’re probably going to run out of money sooner or later,” said Sutton.

Sutton said five or six weddings at the legion were cancelled, which has resulted in a big loss of revenue. He estimates losses at $30,000 to $40,000 since March.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: With COVID-19 affecting so many organizations, the Waterloo Chronicle wanted to find out how the local legion branches have been dealing with it.

by Namish Modi Waterloo Chronicle/AA

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