Manitoba

Canada's legions are changing and not all veterans are happy about it

Legions in Winnipeg are changing as Second World War veterans die off. They no longer represent veterans and their sacrifices, according to members of the West Kildonan legion.

'It has lost what I joined for,' says Winnipeg veteran

Arthur Christensen (left) has been a member of the West Kildonan Legion for 73 years, while his daughter Diane (right) attends the legion’s Remembrance Day service every year with her father. (Nolan Kowal)

Legions are struggling to maintain core membership and their traditions, say Winnipeg veterans.

Murray Monette, 76, served nine years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He said fewer and fewer veterans and their families come to the West Kildonan Legion. 

"People today, it's like passé for them ... Because most of them have never had people [family] in the Armed Forces," said Monette.

"It has lost what I joined for."

Monette joined the legion eight years ago and since then, he has noticed an increase in patrons with no relation to veterans while events like Remembrance Day hold less importance.

"Most of the people who come in here now couldn't care less about all the veterans in the Canadian Forces who died in the First World War, Second World War, Korean War," said Monette.

Winnipeg West Kildonan Legion has 831 members, 79 of whom are still actively serving. (Google Maps)

To make up for slumping revenues, the West Kildonan Legion now provides VLTs.

"Basically what's keeping this legion going is the gambling," Monette said.

Just a club, says oldest member

Arthur Christensen will turn 100 in December. He is the oldest and longest-serving veteran at the West Kildonan Legion. He said he attends the Remembrance Day ceremony there every year.

"I don't think they can do anything about it," said Christensen about changes at the legion.

"Now it's just a club, it's just a club for entertainment."

Robert Watling, the president of West Kildonan, said their services still centre on the First and Second World Wars because they're the most important to members.

He said veterans from the Afghanistan War tend to stay away.

"There's probably only six to eight [from the Afghanistan War] who are actually members of our legion," said Watling.

"They don't really join the clubs because a lot of them are still active so they spend most of their time wherever they're stationed."

Monette added active soldiers rarely come to the Remembrance Day service at the legion anymore.

"When Patricia's [Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry] came back from Afghanistan last time, we invited them to come, and I think we got one person," he said.

While some legions in the city have closed due to lack of membership, West Kildonan is still doing well with 831 members, 79 of whom are still actively serving.

Only St. James Branch No. 4 has more members, as they are into the thousands, according to Watling.

This is one in a series of stories written for CBC Manitoba by Red River College journalism students that looks at ways conflict abroad has shaped Winnipeg.

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