Wolfville Royal Canadian Legion grows despite COVID-19
'We've got a new team heading up the legion who's full of enthusiasm, very welcoming'
A new vision for the Royal Canadian Legion in one Nova Scotia town could be the reason why that branch is thriving as others face the threat of permanent closure.
The Wolfville Legion has been going through a "rebirth" over the past three years, according to former branch president Michael Bawtree. Membership has more than doubled, from about 60 up to 140.
Bawtree, now a member of the executive committee, said the branch used to be "rather creaky," but he and his colleagues have been pushing to change that.
"We've got a new team heading up the legion who's full of enthusiasm, very welcoming and wanting to change the traditional idea of the legion as a place where old men talk about the war and get drunk."
Bawtree said they've worked hard to change the culture into one that's more welcoming to the whole Wolfville community — veterans and non-veterans alike. The push to bring in more members seems to be helped, he said, by the fact that Wolfville doesn't have a formal community centre.
"We're almost downtown," he said.
COVID-19 has put many legions across the country in bad financial shape. Forced closures cut off revenue, and some are expecting a slow year for the poppy campaign — the legion's biggest annual fundraising effort.
The Wolfville Legion was no exception in that it closed in March, but in a way, Bawtree said, the timing was good.
Major renovations were due to begin around that time anyway, and people seem to be "very keen" on the upgrades; membership continued to climb through the summer months, even with the building closed.
"Obviously, our revenues have been cut down drastically, but we are luckier than some legions in that we own our own building, we have no mortgage, and that's really helped us as we go through this difficult time."
Bawtree said he expects the branch will reopen in January after completing the first phase of renovations, which includes a new foundation, accessible washrooms and a new kitchen.
There are plans for further upgrades over the next five years, but that work will require more fundraising.
"We have a long, long range plan of an elevator going up to the [top] floor and a big lounge overlooking Blomidon, which is one of the most beautiful views in Canada."
So far, the branch has attracted around $100,000 in grants from multiple levels of government and private donations, but the anticipated cost of long-term plans is $1.8 million.