Grand Forks Royal Canadian Legion Facing Bankruptcy

The Grand Forks Royal Canadian Legion Branch 59 turns 85 this year and it may be its last.

In a fiscal year where everyone is feeling the tightening budget, the legion is also suffering from the threat of bankruptcy and could close its doors.

“We need people in the area to know what the legion does. All the money that we raise, over 80 per cent of that has to be given away,” stated Director Ken Gresley- Jones.

“If we can’t survive as a branch, then we won’t be able to help all these people that we have been helping over the years,” he continued. “The purpose of the legion is not just supporting veterans and their families, but all the support that we give to the community.”

Youth groups, sports clubs and medical research within the community have seen donations from the legion for the past 19 years, totaling $385,207.

Typically, the legion has raised funds in the past by renting out its lounge and hall for wedding receptions and parties, and fundraising events, such as bingo.

“We’re in trouble because the lounge has traditionally kept the branch going and people aren’t using the lounge anymore,” said Gresley-Jones.

Secretary Elsie Fredericks explained that all money that enters the gaming accounts is put directly into the donations account to be given to local groups.

“We can’t keep any of the money from the gaming account to ourselves. Other than the expenses for organizing bingo or other items, all the rest goes towards our donation account. That’s why we’re able to give out that money and we have to; none of that money comes to us,” she said.

Fredericks indicated that many people have remarked about the amount of money they are donating and that the legion should keep some for their own costs.

“They don’t understand that we’re not allowed to keep any of that money. Eighty per cent of our funds have to be donated and only 20 per cent is kept for administrative needs,” Fredericks stated.

Treasurer Georgina Ortis agreed, “Every time we get our picture taken handing out a cheque, it looks like we’re rolling in dough. But it’s a two-sided picture because we’re not. The other side is we’re just not getting operating costs.

“I know we’re not alone in this, a lot of other legions are also effected. The changes to the drinking and driving laws have affected everybody and when you’re in a small rural community with little services, it’s hard.”

The legion currently has 259 members, but the treasurer pointed out that membership is low.

“Each year we fi nd that we lose 20 to 25 members, through different reasons; some move away, some die, and some just lose interest.” Gresley-Jones added, “The requirements aren’t as rigid as they were at one time to join the Royal Canadian Legion.”

Some fundraising events that the legion has been discussing include a Robbie Burns night and a dance and roast dinner on Oct. 14 for $10 per person.

“Someone has volunteered live music, so we’re hoping to set up something regular, maybe a Friday or Saturday night dance; throughout the winter particularly,” said Ortis. “Because of our lounge, gaming and liquor license, you have to either be a legion member or a guest of the legion member to participate in the activities. If you are interested in dropping in, guests are encouraged to phone a member who will sign them in. Each member can sign up to four guests.”

Ortis mentioned that selling the parking lots outside could be considered but would be a last resort.

“The community can help by attending our fundraising events, join us, rent our hall – if they do that, we can continue to help out all these people,” Gresley-Jones remarked. “It would be a damn shame if all the groups we help are affected. It would be the domino effect; groups we help would fold as well.”

As for the fate of the Grand Forks branch, President Jerome MacDonald said, “It’s tough to say what’s going to happen in the next little while; it’s going to be six months, or it could be a year.”

After the First World War, veterans started to create small groups together across Canada in support of other soldiers and their families. By 1925, it was known as the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League (BESL). Yet it wasn’t until 1960 that the Queen gave consent to add the term ‘royal’ and it was added to the legion’s name, hence The Royal Canadian Legion. The Royal Canadian Legion branches across Canada have raised and donated money to various youth groups, sports clubs and other foundations since their inception.

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