Dawson Creek Legion faces uncertain future

Three moves, declining membership takes toll on local veteran's organization

Barry Young comes from a military family.

His father served in the Canadian Army in World War II, taking part in the invasion of Italy. An uncle was stationed with the British Royal Artillery in Hong Kong. He went missing in action, and it took more than 50 years for family to learn he had died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Though not a veteran himself, Young joined the Royal Canadian Legion as soon as it started admitting non-veteran members as a way of honouring their service.

But even as poppies begin to appear on lapels across the city, Young is worried about the Dawson Creek Legion’s future.  

“Without the help of the general public, we’re probably going to lose that,” he said.
 
Young, who is president of the Dawson Creek branch, says declining revenues and membership make the Legion’s future uncertain.

“It’s not just confined to us,” he said. “There are hundreds of Legions across Canada in the same boat.”

While things have stabilized, it’s been a tumultuous three years for members.

The Legion has been forced to move three times after being priced out of the canteen space they rented in a local mall. In that time, they’ve operated out of a closet-sized office in the curling club, a skate shack in Memorial Arena and the former regional library building, which was demolished this fall.

They’ve finally secured an office space downtown with the help of the city, but losing the canteen and liquor licence cost Legion members both a meeting place and a source of revenue.

While the Legion is trying to diversify to bring in more money, it’s not easy.

“A lot of (Legions) have tried to diversify one way or another, maybe by opening small coffee shops, or things along those lines to bring in additional cash flow for themselves,” Young said. “We, on the other hand, just don’t have that ability there.”

That’s in part due to membership troubles. At last count, the Dawson Creek had around 90 Legion members. Some have left the city or passed away since the count last summer.

Still, the group manages to raise tens of thousands of dollars for local veterans' and community groups each year through its poppy campaign.

Young hopes that as people reflect on Canada’s veterans on Nov. 11, they consider joining the Legion  for the same reason he did—not because they themselves served, but because they respect those who did.  

“I do it because my father was a veteran, and I have an awful lot of respect for these gentlemen,” he said. “This time of year, it gets even more intense.”

reporter@dcdn.ca

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