Port Alberni’s Royal Canadian Legion branch is still recovering after what the branch president calls the “devastating” effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic was declared back in March 2020, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 293, like many other community organizations, was forced to shut down hall rentals and all large events—such as the annual Frances Barkley cruise and some fundraising concerts.
“All these things that are money-makers to us,” said Branch 293 president Al Mooney. “We’re being very fiscally conservative right now, because we lost a lot of our income streams.”
In November of 2020, the federal government finally provided $20M in emergency funding to Legion branches and other veterans’ groups. This was followed by some provincial funding in June 2021. The Port Alberni branch received more than $10,000 in funding, said Mooney.
“That was a godsend when it finally did come,” said Mooney.
With the help of this funding, as well as donations and loans, the local Legion has been able to keep things going. With some restrictions lifted, the lounge is open once again with bar service, and the hall is available for rentals once again.
“Which is fantastic,” said Mooney. “We’re having a lot of memorial services right now, because a lot of people are catching up after not being able to have them for so long.”
Mooney said the Legion has been “very conscious” about following government COVID-19 guidelines, including checking vaccine passports at the door and making sure visitors and volunteers are masked.
“We have an older clientele,” he explained. “We’ve been told by some people that they’re coming here because they feel safe.”
The lounge is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday from 2 p.m to 6 p.m. Members and the general public can gather for a drink in the lounge and play a game of pool, darts or cards. The legion also hosts weekly bingo nights and meat draws.
Membership is “a little down” this year, said Mooney, mostly because of the pandemic. Although the Legion was formed by war veterans, membership is open to everyone. The Royal Canadian Legion has been active in the Alberni Valley for more than 70 years, serving veterans, their families and the larger community. Their bingo nights, for example, have given thousands of dollars to local charitable organizations.
“This is the whole goal,” said Mooney. “We want to be there for veterans and the community.”
Another challenge is that the Ladies Auxiliary of the Royal Canadian Legion, which hosts many of the Legion fundraisers, is struggling with a decline in membership.
The Legion still cannot hold general meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it will be holding an election on Nov. 25 that will look a little different than previous years. Members will be able to vote either in person at the branch (on Nov. 25 from 1-7 p.m.) or by email (emails must be submitted by Nov. 23).
“We’re trying to accommodate people the best we can,” said Mooney.
One of the ways the Legion is trying to raise awareness is through the Windows of Hope challenge at the Coulson Ice Blast building on Third Avenue. Coulson and RBC have partnered with several local non-profits to fill up the windows with colourful displays. People can vote on their favourite window, with a cash prize going to the winning organization.
“That was a fun thing Coulson did this year,” said Mooney. “And we were so tickled when they offered us a window.”
For the month of October, the Legion had a Remembrance Day-themed display in the window. This will be changed out and replaced with a Christmas display for the month of December.
Mooney said the Legion’s office manager, Shannon Dore, has been overseeing most of the decorating.
“She’s been doing a great job,” said Mooney. “We’ve been getting some really positive feedback from people.”
If you are interested in joining the Legion, or the Ladies Auxiliary, please contact the branch at 250-723-5042 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.