Royal Canadian Legion branches offering Ping-Pong, open mics to attract new members

The Royal Canadian Legion has lost around 100,000 members over the last decade, now the surviving chapters are opening their doors and diversifying their event calendars to attract new members.

"It's hard. It's always a struggle to keep the membership up"

Branch 291 is just one of the many Royal Canadian Legions facing sliding membership numbers. (The Canadian Press)

The Royal Canadian Legion has lost 25 per cent of its membership over the past decade. That's around 100,000 members. For many surviving chapters, the only option left is to open their doors, and diversify their offering.

"It's hard. It's always a struggle to keep the membership up, but we are trying." says Bob Miller, president of Richmond's Legion Branch 291.

"The Billy Bishop started to get very quiet," said Debbie Wretchka, president of the Kitsilano Legion.

Both branches are now open to non-members, a clear sign of sliding enrolment.

So to attract new, young card-carriers, many Legions are starting to expand their weekly offering to visitors.

Expanding the event calendar

The Billy Bishop for example now hosts Ping-Pong nights on Thursdays and an open mic on Saturday. It also benefits from proximity to the Seaforth Highlanders army regiment. Wretchka says the special events are getting lots of attention from veterans and non-members alike.

"It's a very nice environment for them to come in and just relax."

But innovation tends to be accompanied by a departure from tradition. For Wretchka, the updated event calendar was simply a necessity.

"We need to have people stay in their seats in order to stay alive," she said. "You have to offer them something."

Miller's Branch 291 has pool tables, dart boards, and also offers shuffleboard, but has had a harder time getting people in the door.

If he can't find a way to attract fresh faces, he says the branch could face the same fate as many other locations that have had to close.

"There's always worries, a lot of branches have closed down because of lack of membership, but we will survive," he said.

Both he and Wretchka are now looking forward to tomorrow's Remembrance Day celebrations. The hope is with veterans already on the minds of many Canadians, their next thought will be of the Legions that support them.

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