Sault Ste. Marie Royal Canadian Legion branches out into affordable housing for veterans

A Sault Ste. Marie Royal Canadian Legion branch has partnered with a developer to redevelop its aging building to include affordable housing units.

'It's definitely a project of the heart,' says branch vice-president

branch building in construction
The new Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 building is expected to be completed by June 2024. (Submitted by Pierre Breckenridge)

Passersby in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., may have noticed a flurry of construction at 96 Great Northern Rd., where the Royal Canadian Legion says it's redeveloping local Branch 25 to include 35 affordable housing units. 

Local Branch 25's original building served as a home away from home for many community members since the mid-1960s. But it was in need of repairs for some time, says legion vice-president Pierre Breckenridge. 

When it came time to decide what to do with the building, the legion chose to partner with local developer Sal-Dan Developments and redevelop the building to include a bar, a museum and an upper level with 107 apartments — 35 of which will be affordable units intended for veterans. 

"It's definitely a project of the heart," Breckenridge said.

"We believe that if this model is successful in Sault Ste. Marie, the Royal Canadian Legion will continue to be able to service veterans and their families as well as the community for a number of years going forward." 

"Unfortunately, a number of veterans are finding themselves where they can't afford to live," he said. "So if we can make it a little easier, then it's our duty and responsibility." 

Veterans to help in construction process

The redevelopment project comes at a time when Sault Ste. Marie city council is looking to Barrie and how the southern Ontario city tackles the community's affordable housing needs. There, the city offers a program where select property owners have the chance to apply for financial support to do an affordable housing feasibility study. Each study in that city is estimated to cost about $20,000.

Breckenridge said the legion intends to support veterans throughout the redevelopment process. So far, the project has hired 15 veterans to help during the construction process. 

Graphic of the new legion building with apartment buildings
An architectural rendering of the new legion building by David Ellis Architect Inc. (Submitted by Pierre Breckenridge)

"Once the construction is finished, we also plan to offer any service positions at the building, to veterans first," he said. "So the hope and idea would be that at some point, a veteran would be managing the building." 

Breckenridge said the new building will cost about $34 million to construct, with the legion providing the property as its cash contribution to the project and the developer matching that amount. The remainder has been taken out as a loan from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC). 

In addition to being able to offer affordable housing to veterans in need, Breckenridge said this will offer a more sustainable, long-term financial model for the legion.

"We truly believe that this was our best option given the choices we had, to secure a future for the legion and our veterans in the community," he said.

John Bruno is with Sal-Dan. He says the company "fell in love" with the idea of helping a local legion. 

"Some legions are very much in poor financial situations. We were very happy to join them in a partnership that would create a method to survive in the years to come," Bruno said. 

Bruno said the partnership is likely the first of many, as the company is currently in discussions with other legion branches across the province to begin similar initiatives. 

The new legion building in Sault Ste. Marie is expected to be completed by June 2024.