Demise of the Cowichan Legion imminent

Cowichan Legion president Bruce MacDonald says Branch 53 is likely to close next month due to a declining membership and red ink. - Peter W. Rusland
Cowichan Legion president Bruce MacDonald says Branch 53 is likely to close next month due to a declining membership and red ink.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

The cash-strapped Cowichan Legion will close in mid-July, barring a miracle, the News Leader Pictorial has learned.

“We’re not taking in enough money to even pay the (supplies and utilities) expenses,” Branch 53 president Bruce MacDonald said of his 266-member Legion. “The money we have will do us until mid-July.”

Even if a patron, community group, or Duncan council, steps in to pay the Legion’s $3,100 monthly rent in downtown’s Canada Building, it may not be enough to rescue the branch.

“Someone would have to give us a lot of money, and we have no way of paying anything back. There’s lots of expenses (outside of rent),” explained a distraught MacDonald.

“The B.C.-Yukon command guy said we can’t do anything — we’re going to have to shut it down. It’s bad.”

Councillor Sharon Jackson agreed, but explained any idea of city taxpayers bailing out the broke Legion isn’t possible.

“The city can’t pay their rent. The Legion is like a service club,” Jackson said, saluting Legion turnout at June 6 D-Day services.

“It was really a great event, but I’m afraid unless a miracle happens we won’t have a Legion any longer; they just can’t keep their head above water, and can’t get new members.”

The branch has also probed partnering with other service clubs, Jackson added.

“It would be terrible if the Legion closed. Legions are closing across the country. It’s bad news.”

Bad news also for local seniors housing, Cowichan District Hospital, and student-bursary winners that annually share about $10,000 in unsung funds from Branch 53’s Poppy Fund.

“The Legion also supports all the cadets, and gives them opportunities to go on parade,” she said. “It’s such a great service for young people.”

MacDonald believes those services could have continued if only his branch had bought a new Legion property — after selling its former building at Trunk and Bundock some nine years ago — rather than paying rent.

“In the past five years we’ve lost over $18,000 just paying our bills and trying to keep our head above water,” said MacDonald, who served with NATO in Germany (1968-1971).

“We’re losing over $4,000 a month right now.

“I think they should have taken the money (from the former site, now Sunridge care home) and bought another place.

“We also have a declining membership, and people are just not supporting the Legion.”

Besides “the volunteers we have are all burned out, and nobody’s stepping forward to help in any way.

“There’s very little income now. We’ve had to close our bar, except for Fridays and Saturdays, and the Legion’s closed on the other days.”

If his branch shuts, members can still visit remaining Legions at Chemainus, Malahat, Lake Cowichan, and Ladysmith, he suggested.

Cowichan branch’s various artifacts — owned by members, some of whom have died — could go to other branches, or to the Cowichan Valley Museum, he noted, lamenting Branch 53’s pending closure.

“It’s not a good feeling at all,” said MacDonald.

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