Declining membership forces change on local legions

As membership dwindles, it has become harder for legion branches to keep the lights on.

Legions in northeastern Ontario sell buildings, move monuments

After the Copper Cliff Legion sold its building, the organization has moved the cenotaph to a small park area near the town's museum. (Erik White/CBC)

As membership dwindles, it has become harder for legion branches to keep the lights on.

The Chelmsford Legion was so busy 20 years ago, the Greater Sudbury area building was expanded to fit all the members.

"You had people lined up to come into the branch, now we're lucky to get a handful of people coming in," said branch president Sharlene Sissons.

For Sissons and her 140 legion members, this year’s Remembrance Day will be different.

The two-storey hall has been sold and is being turned into apartments and the Legion has moved into an old lumber store, where there will be "a nice small clubroom," Sissons said, adding "the membership is very happy with the move."

Due to declining memberships, many legions across the north have been forced to moved from halls they've occupied for decades. (Erik White/CBC)

'Day-to-day chore'

Many Legions are struggling to pay the heat and hydro for big halls built for the swell of veterans after the Second World War.

That's the case at Branch 23 in North Bay, which was almost sold and converted into a courthouse a few years ago.

Long-time member Bill Wilkins said they keep their head above water by hosting weddings, parties and other catered events.

But he said just convincing members to give up an evening to work the kitchen is tough.

"You look around and it's all the old faces from years gone by," Wilkins said. "It's a day-to-day chore."

Over in Copper Cliff, a small community west of Sudbury, this year’s Remembrance Day parade will end in a different place.

Faced with mounting costs, the Copper Cliff legion hall was sold four years ago and is now a union office building. Since then, they've been working to find a new home for the cenotaph, branch president Diane Carter said.

The cenotaph has just been moved near the community's museum, where a re-dedication ceremony will be held this weekend.

"It's an important day for the branch," she said. "It's a commitment that we've made to the community."

The Copper Cliff cenotaph features a new plaque that honours veterans of the Gulf War and the mission in Afghanistan.