Many Royal Canadian Legions in the county were fighting hard to gain members and keep their legions open a few years ago, but it seems now they are beginning to hold their own.
Stephen Gerrior, treasurer of Stellarton Legion Branch 28 says, “We are not doing too bad. It’s been fairly steady for members.” Stellarton is boasting a membership of approximately 285 and they have been holding steady.
“We are not losing any members, but we aren’t really gaining any either,” he says.
Pictou Legion Branch 16 is also doing well in terms of members.
“We have some new members this year so we are doing pretty well,” says Janice Watters, president.
Watters says they have had to reduce their hours on Monday and Tuesdays, but Wednesday through Sunday they have darts, karaoke, Chase the Ace and steak darts.
Donald Calder, president of Westville Legion Branch 35, shares the same sentiment in terms of members.
“Our membership is actually up this year by about a dozen members, but we still only have 112 to 115 members in total.”
The issue is, however, being able to keep the doors open in Westville.
“We are struggling; we are only open three days a week now.”
People aren’t attending the legion as much as they used to, so paying for a bartender was costing the legion money.
“Private functions have helped a lot, like weddings. Our biggest gain is if we can get the bar rented out.”
Even though their numbers are smaller, Calder says they are always willing to work.
Donny Kennedy, past president of the New Glasgow Legion Branch 34 says their membership has been maintaining.
“There has been a slight increase overall in legion membership in northern Nova Scotia, but not by much.”
Gerrior says to become a regular legion member, you must be part of the armed forces, cadets or police; however, if you have a family member that is or was a member of the legion, you can become an associate member.
Those with no legion affiliation can still join as an affiliate member as long as you are 19 years of age or older.
Kennedy adds, “You definitely don’t have to be involved with the military to be a member any more, anyone can join.” New Glasgow Legion has had to cut back slightly on hours, but have been doing fairly well.
Trenton Legion Branch 29 is facing the same issue.
“We haven’t seen an increase in membership, it’s actually down some,” says Pat Condon, membership chairman. “We have 257 members but we have had to change our hours.”
River John Legion Branch 108 is starting to fill out again.
Marilyn Heighton, president, notes the issue is not keeping members, but getting new, younger members.
“We did get a couple of younger members sign up this year,” she says.
But they have reduced their hours to one Saturday a month through the winter, although they are open for a jam session every Friday evening.
Kennedy says being involved with the legion means supporting veterans.
“We are focused on looking after veterans and veterans’ needs. We sponsor the Northumberland Veteran’s Unit in Pictou and we have the poppy drive and wreath drive as well as organize the Remembrance Day services,” he says.
Kennedy says money raised from the Remembrance Day wreaths goes to the cost of the wreaths with maybe $1 going to the legion. As for the poppies, they are a donation-based fundraiser and all funds go into a trust that cannot be touched unless it is for a specific purpose.
“The funds from the trust go toward veterans and their families, but we are also permitted to use the funds for hospital donations, school library donations, army cadet corps donations and things like that. There’s quite a bit we do for the community and it’s the poppy drive that does it.”
Kennedy says the legion is really broken into two parts, the entity itself, and the business portion. The entity is the membership, the club atmosphere and the games; the business is the bar and the rentals which help pay for expenses of the legion.
“The bar helps as the numbers for members drops,” he says. “We are always taking members and volunteers for the poppy and wreath drives.”