End of Royal Canadian Legion in Ste. Anne, Man., 'a hard pill to swallow,' branch's final president says

Declining memberships and aging members are leaving small Royal Canadian Legion branches with little choice other than to close their doors. The Ste. Anne La Verendrye Legion is one of those small legions, and it's announced that at the end of this year, its doors will close.

The La Verendrye legion branch will surrender its charter by the end of this year

The La Verendrye legion branch in Ste. Anne, Man., is not having a Remembrance Day ceremony this year, but is still having one last poppy campaign before it surrenders its charter later this year, the branch president says. (CBC)

For the first time in years, Royal Canadian Legion La Verendrye Branch No. 220 will not hold a Remembrance Day ceremony this Sunday.

And there won't be any in the future, either — the La Verendrye Legion branch, in the small town of Ste. Anne, Man., has announced that at the end of this year, it will shut down for good.

The legion actually sold its building 10 years ago. And this year, it doesn't have a space for a Remembrance Day ceremony, said branch president Martin Gabbs.

"It's a hard pill to swallow," he said. "We started a couple of years ago talking about it, and this year we finally decided to shut 'er down and surrender our charter."

It's one of many small-town legions across Canada left with little choice other than to shut down in the face of declining membership and aging members.

"We haven't been able to recruit any new members" said Gabbs, who will be the final president for the branch in Ste. Anne, about 45 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

Currently there are only 14 members with the branch, and most are part of its executive committee. Membership has declined a lot in the past years, said Gabbs — when he joined there were at least 50 members.

One last poppy drive

While there is no Remembrance Day ceremony this year — the branch has used a local church in recent years, but can't this year because Remembrance Day falls on a Sunday — the legion branch is still running its poppy campaign, one last time.

"We put our poppies out to regular venues and once that's done and it's all collected, whatever money comes in from that gets donated, and then right after that we basically surrender our charter and that'll be the end," he said.

We're working very hard at building our membership.… It just hasn't helped in all cases.- Ronn Anderson

Many veterans use the legion as a place to socialize and make friends. Gabbs is no different.

He said he'll miss getting together with the other members of the branch.

"They're all close friends and we got to know each other through the legion, and I've known some of them before that," he said.

"We'll probably still get together somewhere, have a coffee."

'I believe in what we do'

Ronn Anderson is president of the Royal Canadian Legion Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Command. He says he's sad to hear that the La Verendrye legion is surrendering its charter, but it's not surprising. 

"We're working very hard at building our membership.… It just hasn't helped in all cases," he said. 

One problem is that many young veterans are not joining the legion. 

"For several years now we haven't gotten the younger members in, and of course, our core membership is increasing in age," said Anderson.

Veterans from the Second World War are in their 90s, and veterans from the Korean War are in their late 80s, he notes.

The closing of legion branches leaves a gap, he says.

"I believe in the legion and I believe in what we do, and the honouring of our veterans and the remembrance programs to ensure that people don't forget that there were a lot of people who gave up their time and effort in order to protect this country."