By Drake Lowthers
ANTIGONISH: Rural branches of the Royal Canadian Legion tend to suffer in Nova Scotia due to smaller population sizes and membership competition between local clubs, but in Antigonish, the legion is thriving.
With more than 100 branches across the province, legions have certainly evolved over the last 92-years and adapting for current times is important if any legion wants to grow and expand.
In Antigonish, an unlikely collaboration between Branch No. 59 and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) has given second life to an organization that wasn’t able to perform to its fullest capabilities.
“The partnership started before we purchased the building, we purchased the building with the partnership in mind,” James Matheson, president of the Antigonish Legion told The Reporter in a phone interview. “Basically, their needs and our needs are different but they augment each other very well, so it works well for as far as shared-space and shared-time for the building to be used at maximum capacity.”
Since moving to the East Coast Credit Union Social Enterprise Centre located at 75 St. Ninian Street, Matheson said membership numbers have skyrocketed from approximately 170 to nearly 300 and it has allowed them to become a more accessible service organization.
“In fact, we’re branching out a little bit further away from the normal legion activities, where it’s more membership-focused and we’ve become more community-focused,” he said. “We’re still doing all the regular legion functions, we’re still serving veterans, we’re still having our normal legion meetings, memory projects, history presentations, just a lot of different items promoting remembrance and promoting service to veterans.”
Matheson said it’s very rewarding to see this model of two service providers working together succeed, but noted they have their fair share of challenges.
“You have two different individual groups that have different names and mission statements,” he said. “So we have to co-operate, we have to share expenses and resources.”
The partnership is being recognized nationally as an innovative model to be followed. In October 2018, the legion received the Recreation Nova Scotia Innovation Award from the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
Matheson said the greatest change for the legion is the location itself as they’re in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility with parking, which is an important piece of the puzzle.
“If we hold a bingo, or darts, or something, we need a place to park,” he said. “When we were on Main Street, of course we had no parking, so this is huge.”
Matheson said the most beneficial component in the partnership with the CACL is having each organization become more familiar with the other.
“I’ve become more aware of the CACL and their mantra and they’ve become more aware of us, what we do and what we stand for,” he said. “There’s a lot of cross-over between our patrons and their patrons and there is tremendous shared-respect for each other.”