By Judith van Berkom
Without financial assistance from their communities, Royal Canadian Legions across the country are facing possible closure due to COVID-19. The Westboro Legion is no exception. With no income from its usual revenue streams — and no sense of when operations could resume — the 72-year-old local branch has thousands in monthly costs and could shut its doors permanently.
A conversation with the Westboro Legion’s President, Evelyn Brunton, provided a better sense of what the organization does for veterans and for the community. Brunton joined the Legion some 15 years ago to help veterans.
“We are so lucky in this time that we are not going through a world war,” she said.
“We’ve been accused of celebrating war and this is totally wrong,” Brunton added. “What we are trying to do is take care of the needs of veterans who have returned from war. The majority have been harmed in some way or other. Whether it’s physical or mental — the mental you don’t see. You don’t see the private hell they are going through and some of them for the rest of their lives.”
Currently, Royal Canadian Legions are not eligible for any of the federal government’s emergency funding programs as the non-profit branches are largely volunteer-run.
On June 3, Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President Thomas D. Irvine wrote to the federal government requesting immediate intervention. In the letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Irvine outlined the “critical need” for financial support for Canadian Legions.
“Businesses that cater to the public currently have access to a number of relief programs but our Branches operate primarily through volunteer work and do not qualify for the sort of help being provided to restaurants, retail outlets, and even sporting clubs,” Irvine stated.
“If this nation’s hundreds of Legion Branches are forgotten some of them will close permanently resulting in a huge ripple effect across the country,” he added. “Branches are often the hubs of communities, and will be unable to support Veterans, Seniors and all citizens in the countless ways they do.”
On average, the Westboro Legion has $2,500 a month in costs, including the upkeep of an aging building and salaries for two part-time cleaners and a bookkeeper. All other functions are provided for by volunteers.
Before COVID-19, The Westboro Legion had three primary streams of income. The Poppy Campaign raised $68,000 last year and these funds are only used to support veterans (not operational costs). One of the organizations they regularly support is a Legion program that helps homeless veterans — Leave the Streets Behind. Individual requests for personal assistance (rent, wheelchairs, repairs to their home, medications, etc.) often come through the veterans service officer or their Hospital/Home Visiting Team.
The second funding stream is the Lottery Fund — money raised comes from their bingo night (Wednesday evenings), the occasional licensed raffle and 50/50 licensed draws. The bulk of the money raised goes to local charities such as The Parkdale Food Centre, CHEO, the Ottawa Mission, the Shepherds of Good Hope, Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army.
The third stream is the General Fund. This is money raised through public rental fees for their downstairs hall and smaller hall upstairs, sports fees from their pool and dart leagues, bar or food sales and special events such as dances and trivia nights — none of which are producing any revenue for day-to-day costs due to the pandemic closures (March-present).
The Westboro Legion is similar to a community centre, with activities taking place many evenings of the week and on weekends. Bingo is hosted on Wednesdays and sports activities (drop-in darts, pool and dart league) are held regularly on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Twice a month a live band performs and once a month there is a jazz night (all run by volunteers, pre-COVID-19). Twice a year, the Legion runs its popular trivia nights.
There is the Remembrance Day service, parade, wreath-laying ceremony at the Westboro Cenotaph and then Halloween, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day parties and New Year’s Day Levee (no charge). The organization honours numerous military anniversaries to remind the community of the cost of war and the many sacrifices made by veterans for our country.
The Westboro Legion is a very active place where people of all ages connect and support our community and our veterans.
In anticipation of the COVID-19 lockdown, a GoFundMe account was set up where donations can be made online. So far, donations have been received from members of the Westboro Legion, but they are in need of help from the community to sustain the branch through the pandemic.
“With your help, our team of dedicated volunteers will do everything they can to make sure we will be around to celebrate our 75th anniversary in 2023,” the Westboro Legion wrote on its GoFundMe page.
The GoFundMe page can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/keep-westboro-legion-open?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1
Alternatively, community members can send a cheque to The Westboro Legion, 389-391 Richmond Rd., Ottawa, K2A 0E7.
For more information, to join the Legion or become a volunteer as restrictions subside, please visit the Westboro Legion’s website http://www.rcl480.com/