Branch 23 under the barrel

Unless he finds a home before September he could lose his charter

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The past few years have been difficult for Branch 23 of The Royal Canadian Legion.

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The branch has been homeless since leaving the First Avenue W. building, and the COVID-19 pandemic has cut its membership nearly in half.

And unless the branch is unable to find a new home in the next few months, branch president Eileen Viau fears she may have to give up her charter.

Eileen Viau
Eileen Viau jpg, N.B.

“What’s going to happen, if we don’t find a place, we could lose our charter,” Viau said Wednesday.

“Our biggest concern is what will North Bay do without a Legion branch?

Branch 23 was established in 1926. Its duty was to help care for veterans of what was then called the Great War and their families. Over the years it has attracted thousands of veterans and non-veterans. He sponsored the North Bay Legion Athletic Club and donated to groups in the city and area.

The annual Remembrance Day Ceremony in North Bay was also hosted and organized by the branch.

“Who will continue? Viau asks.

“Who’s going to take care of the vets?” asks former president and first vice-president, Jim Thompson.

“We reached out to everyone,” says Viau. “We are looking for anyone with a place to rent.”

Several possibilities were put forward, but for one reason or another, the members or the provincial leadership vetoed them. They also ran into barriers such as parking availability, accessibility for members, or the price is just out of reach.

“It’s our last kick in the box,” said Viau. “In September, if we have nothing, we will have to give up our charter.”

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Viau and Thompson said they think most people in town don’t understand everything the branch has done.

“This branch, at its peak, was donating $250,000 a year” to various organizations, Thompson said.

It’s come down a lot, but he’s still paying around $25,000 a year. The groups he helps include the city’s army, navy and air cadet corps, post-secondary students through scholarships, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Military Family Resource Center and the Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth.

“They’ve never had anyone donate to them before,” Thompson said of NADY, saying the group was largely self-funded.

“We want to be self-sufficient,” says Thompson. “We’ve survived the past two years” by doing business online, but the need for a place to call home and to be able to find each other drives all their efforts.

“We want to do more.”

Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson jpg, N.B.

Thompson says Branch 23 is not alone. Many service clubs in the region have seen their numbers decline. The branch, before the pandemic, had more than 300 members. Today there are about 175.

“I think a lot of (former members) are sitting backstage,” he says. “They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Most of those 175 members, Viau says, are older members who are long-time legionnaires who “want to keep the branch going.

“We are reaching out to the community,” she says. “We call on people to support us.

“If we could almost have a storefront, a place we could call home, that’s all we want. A place where people can stop, have a coffee, have a little chat.

Viau says the branch is looking for “less than 2,000 square feet and accessible,” with two washrooms, a meeting room, a kitchenette, and parking or on bus routes.

The branch can be reached by mail at PO Box 1153, Main Station, North Bay, P1B 8K4.

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