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Valley legion branches remain steadfast despite challenging year

David Dollis

Over the past year, the local branches of the Royal Canadian Legion in the Chateauguay Valley have been facing severe restrictions and challenges. Despite the difficulties the pandemic has brought, all three Valley branches have been able to stay active in their communities.

“We are maintaining,” says Randy Campbell, president of Branch 196 Ormstown. “We’re maintaining ourselves, thanks to our dedicated executive, members, and community.”

This maintenance has not been without trial. Due to forced closure, the branches are dealing with serious financial limitations.

“We are still viable, but struggling,” says Karl Kramell, service officer and past president of Branch 244 Hemmingford. “Our bar is closed; we can’t host functions. But our bills still need paying.”

Lorraine Arthur, 1st vice-president of Branch 81 Huntingdon, agrees. “Our branch is closed, and we are hosting no activities. We can only open for possible emergency use,” she said. “There is no money coming in.”

All three branches have been closed over the past year, except for a short period during the summer when restrictions were lifted. While this provided a respite, it only allowed for modest bar revenues and no major activities or hall rentals, which are the main sources of financial viability for most branches. They were also obliged to implement Santé Québec rules and guidelines, which further limited their options when reopening.

In the face of this, some branches have been doing whatever fundraising they can. In Hemmingford, for example, they have been organizing a monthly takeout chicken dinner, which may change to a bi-monthly event if needed. There have also been donations from municipalities, private businesses and citizens. Furthermore, the annual Poppy Fund campaign was still launched in 2020 and was successful despite the pandemic. However, the Poppy Fund can only be used specifically for veterans, which makes those funds difficult or impossible to use for branch finances.

Another source of some support was in the form of one-time grants from Dominion Command, the national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Legion. These provided some relief, and helped to cover essential costs such as heating and building infrastructure maintenance. Although a helpful boon, they provided only short-term support.

A further major challenge has been the lack of social contact, which the branches normally provide to their members. This has been keenly felt since in-person activities have been suspended. “We are an older community, and without the legion and its leagues, many members are feeling isolated,” said Arthur. She was not alone in voicing this concern; according to Kramell, “There has been a lack of camaraderie, of connection, as keeping in contact can be very difficult.”

All three branches have been able to stay in contact with their membership to some degree, though all agree it is not ideal. And while some branches have been able to maintain their numbers, others are reporting a drop in this year’s membership, with a corresponding drop in dues payments.

Despite these challenges, all three branches strongly contend that they remain viable for the moment and have absolutely no intention of folding. They also have stated their executives have been, or will be, discussing specific plans to continue past the fall. This may include anything from contingency planning in case of continued closure, to full reopening, and everything in between.

All three Valley branches are still devoted to maintaining their presence in their communities, continuing their mission of advocacy for veterans, and supporting and educating the public. “We’ve got to keep this momentum going,” said Kramell, “to remind everyone, especially the youth, of past conflicts and why they need to remember.” They hope to do this with the continued backing of the citizens of Chateauguay Valley, whose support they greatly appreciate. When asked what more people could do, Campbell replied that, given the support the legion has had, “We feel, it’s more what can we do for them.”

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