Red Deer Legion president Bev Hanes, spotted using hand sanitizer Tuesday, encourages Canadians to join their local branch as a sign of support. The Legion opened its doors for the first time this week after closing in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff

“Sizable’ gift keeps Red Deer Legion marching

The Red Deer Legion is an exception in Canada.

But Legion president Bev Hanes said if it weren’t for downsizing its space, the branch would’ve already been closed amid the ongoing pandemic.

The Legion is also fortunate that it’s been left a “sizable” estate – roughly $300,000 – from a member who died last year.

“In the will, we’re the main beneficiary of his whole estate,” said Hanes.

The man wasn’t a veteran, nor was he related to any veterans, said Hanes.

“When he came in here, I guess he felt welcome,” she said.

In the past year, the branch has been jumping through legal hoops and is waiting for the money to appear in its bank account.

With that sort of financial safety net, the local Legion is in much better shape than some branches that are struggling across the country.

Nineteen of those branches are in Alberta, said John Mahon, president of the Alberta-Northwest Territories command of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Two of those are in worse shape than the rest, he added.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the organization has written to the federal government asking for financial support, said Tom Irvine, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Ottawa.

Without funding, branches across the country will face closure within months, a letter written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early June states.

Irvine said 124 branches of the Legion’s 1,381 outlets face closure in upcoming months unless there is help available.

There are another 357 that are facing less serious financial difficulties.

“So they’ll be right behind the 124,” said Irvine, explaining the branches don’t qualify for the COVID supports available from the federal government to cover their operational costs.

When COVID-19 hit Alberta, the local Legion shut its doors in mid-March. Those doors opened Monday.

“You can come and eat, but that’s all. There’s no sports, no entertainment, no cards, nobody can take the books out of our library for now,” said Hanes.

“We had to open, because there is no income if we are closed,” she explained, adding the organization is following Alberta Health Services protocols of social distancing and extra cleaning.

With the downsizing, there’s money in the bank from the sale of the building, which has helped the non-profit organization stay afloat the past few months.

At the same time, Hanes understands that some branches in the country are struggling.

“The younger veterans don’t come in. They’re a bit more scattered around the country, whereas the First and Second World War, it was the whole community involved.

“I think the younger generations are not respecting the history, of all the service organizations and what they’ve done for the community. It’s very sad.”

Irvine encouraged Canadians to join their local branch and support them by attending events once the pandemic is behind us.

“The Legion has been in these communities for about 95 years in a lot of cases, and they’re the centre of the rural communities in many cases,” he said. “It’ll be a crime to lose these branches right across the country.”

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