Legions opening their doors again to community
By Sue Tiffin
While three local Royal Canadian Legions in the county – Haliburton, Branch 129, Wilberforce, Branch 624, and Minden, Branch 636 – closed their doors alongside other Legions across the country on March 17 to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, they didn’t stop helping veterans in need during the shut-down, or those in need of financial support.
Now, with Phase 3 initiated by the province allowing buildings to be open with social distancing measures in place, the Legions are opening back up for those looking to get out of the house and socialize once again, which may recoup some of their losses.
Wilberforce’s Douglas C. Hatch branch reopened on July 22.
“We just reopened yesterday, and we’re going to see how it goes,” said president John Glassey. “We’ve had to reduce our hours, and we’re working with what we’ve got. There’s some of the stuff we can’t do right now – a lot of the events we would have, have been cancelled, we can’t do dances or anything like that.”
Glassey said since March, the Legion has had to cancel numerous events and fundraisers that usually bring the community together and help fundraise for the Legion’s efforts: fishing derbies, horseshoe tournaments, a golf tournament – all cancelled while the country’s top medical officer asked for people to stay home, and then the province’s emergency state called for no gatherings, eventually allowing only small gatherings.
“Those are the things that make us the money, so it’s going to be a hard go, but we’ll do what we can,” said Glassey.
last week’s first day turnout wasn’t a big one, Glassey said it hadn’t
been advertised much as the Legion’s volunteers were “just trying to get
things back in order and make sure everything’s up to par.”
Things will look a bit different as the Legion reopens. Card nights on Mondays can’t happen due to the close contact of participants, nor Saturday’s meat draws because of the handling of cash and tickets, but darts on Wednesday night with participants wearing masks might be an option, and Friday wing nights can still happen even if a jam session might not be possible.
Phase 3’s allowance of groups up to 50 people inside, while still social distancing, can allow for more options than takeout, which the Wilberforce branch didn’t implement due to a lack of heavy traffic along Burleigh Road, but the schedule of the Legion’s future reopening all depends on whether or not people come, and what the executive – which hasn’t been able to get together for elections yet or hold a general meeting with enough participating for quorum – decide will work best.
Glassey said it’s been a rough go – the groups that
make use of the building haven’t been able to, and though not using the
restaurant saved in gas for the kitchen, and not using the building
offered a relief of the amount of electricity being used, the air
conditioner is now up and running again. Legions across Canada haven’t
qualified for much of the government help that is available, and
although Legion Command offered those in need some emergency help, many
Legions are still struggling with the lost revenue caused by the
“Put it this way, our expenses are a lot more than our income right now,” said Glassey.
Glassey said the branch isn’t looking at closure, something that more
than 150 of the Legion’s 1,381 branches might be facing according to
media reports last week.
“Not really closure,” he said. “I mean, I know it’s going to be tight, we have a few things we can back up on. Normally this branch would make our money in the summer, and that gets us through the winter. Right in March when we shut down, that was the beginning of our better season, and that would go through to October. So we’ve got a few months to try and gain some back. So we’ll see what we can do.”
With hockey play-offs coming back to broadcast, Glassey is
hopeful the community will feel comfortable coming out to take in a
game, or that others might pick up some takeout or get together once
again, though he noted there might be some patrons who were “going to be
not too keen” on wearing a mask and social distancing.
“I guess we’re all going to have to get used to it around here,” he said. “I mean, everyone’s going to have to do it no matter what they do.”
at the Haliburton Legion, Don Pitman, first vice-president, took a
break from painting and cleaning up in the basement to speak to the
upcoming reopening of the Mountain Street branch.
Apart from the work of the women’s auxiliary, the Haliburton branch doesn’t offer food, and so opening for takeout wasn’t an option. Pitman thought a soft opening might take place in August.
In the meantime, volunteers have been inside, doing what Pitman said was “a little bit of tidy-up,” and preparing to open the doors once again.
“We’ve just started meetings back up,” he said. “We’re kind of hoping to be back in business from an executive and a leadership standpoint probably within the next 15 to 20 days, and then we can sort of strike out anew. We’re going to have to trim our sails and change our course a little bit because it’s all dictated by what the government allows you to do.”
The Haliburton Legion is also not currently facing closure, according to Pitman.
“We’re not in dire straits as others ... because of some really prudent financial management on some of our former leaders here, but you know there’s a lot of places around that are really struggling, a lot of other Legions that we’ve been made aware of that are just kind of hanging on by their teeth,” he said, noting the news of potential closures across Canada. “We’re very fortunate here because we’re a little bit of the heartbeat of Haliburton, so we do a lot of, well, when we can, we do a lot of weddings and events, in our 2,300 square foot hall upstairs. But that’s all kind of stopped right now.”
Pitman noted the Legion had recently undergone renovations that increase its attractiveness as a rental facility.
“We did a bunch of renovations last year, upstairs, and our rentals had ramped up substantially to what they were because people were liking what they saw, as far as the improvements go,” he said. “And we’re going to try to keep that trend going.”
Pitman said he hoped to let people
know that the Legion would be opening again soon, and that it would be
looking for the community’s support, “and we’ll continue to support the
“We’re always interested in people who want to lend a hand, either by body or by cheque book. We’re pretty fortunate, we’re kind of holding our own, we’re just like everybody else, just trying to cope with COVID changes and limited numbers.”
The Mabel Brannigan
branch in Minden has been open for takeout during Phase 2, and also
reopened the building to a restricted number of guests last week.
“Takeout was nowhere near our normal business but it was OK,” said president Jim Ross. “It gave us a little bit of a revenue stream, and community support. That was OK, not great, but a little bit of revenue, helped pay the bills, so to speak.”
Despite the response not being overwhelming, Ross said, “the word’s getting out there.”
Minden branch has been able to keep its contribution level to veterans
and community groups, including upcoming school programs that assist
students in need, but Ross said the Legion had experienced a “serious
drop in revenue” over the time it had been closed, not being able to
open for celebrations of life, weddings, and group rentals.
“And remember, this is tourist season up here, this is normally our busiest section of the year, and we’ve been closed,” he said.
been made to the Legion inside, according to recommendations from the
Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, including tables
being spaced six feet apart, a change in patio tables to make them more
comfortable and easy to clean, and staff wearing personal protection
“I think we’re a very, very safe environment,” said Ross. “We’ve taken all of those steps.”
He noted members and staff would like to see the crowds coming back to the restaurant again, “people back in the building and feeling safe and getting back into the swing of things,” but said everyone has to feel safe for that to happen.
“I don’t think there’s any danger of closure,” he said. “We’re fine that way. And again we know we have a strong community base and well, I’m sure that they’ll be back when they’re able, when they feel safe. People have got to feel safe in the building. That’s not just us, it’s everywhere that is reopening, there’s fear on the side of people to get back inside, they’ve got to know it’s safe. I think, we’ve spent a lot of time committing ourselves to that, so I think it will happen. We’ll get back, we’ll get our people back and we’ll be up and running.”
Ross said he really wanted to see the weekly activities held for seniors: darts, euchre, card games, up and running again.
“This is where we’re really hurting, this is the really difficult part is because we are really the seniors centre in the community,” he said. “We don’t have a seniors centre and the Legion kind of took over part of that role. They haven’t been able to play cards and they haven’t been able to play darts. All of that, we still can’t do it because you have to maintain the social distancing. And so until we get the go ahead for that, we can’t do it. The seniors are really hurting. They haven’t been able to socialize, and it doesn’t sound like much but weekly card games are very important to them and that hasn’t been able to happen and so we’re really sorry about that but we’ll get it back as soon as we can.”
When further restrictions are lifted and closer gatherings are allowed, Ross said the activities would be quick to come back.
we’ve got the go-ahead from the health unit to be able to do it, we’ll
do it, because we know that they’re really hurting, and we want to get
that back up and operating as fast as we can,” he said.
Now, the Legion hopes the next few months allow for business before the winter comes.
“We’ll get through the pandemic all right,” said Ross. “Our biggest concern is the upcoming winter. We’ve been without revenue for a long period of time, and up here, it’s a long, cold winter. That’s when we have the majority of our expenses. We’re hoping we can get enough revenue stream to meet our obligations for the winter. That’s our biggest concern of the whole thing. We’re back open for business. And we have very strong community support, we’re hoping that translates into a return to normal, some kind of normalcy as to that branch, we can get on with our business and start contributing back to the community and do the things we do.”