Local Legion set to re-open after COVID closure

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

After months of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal Canadian Legion hall in Hinton plans to open its doors on June 25.

The hall will be open on Thursdays to Saturdays with social distancing measures in place during the summer months.

Nearly one in 10 branches across the country face closure in the coming months unless there is some sort of intervention, according to the Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters.

Irene Musselman, president of the local Legion, stated that Hinton’s Legion is in a more fortunate position than some others and they hope to make it through the summer.

While some Legions rent their space, the Hinton Legion owns their building and it is mortgage free.

Musselman noted that if they had to remain closed until September, they would have been okay. 

“After that it gets a little bit more of a concern because it costs a lot of money to be closed,” Musselman said.

It costs $5,000 per month just for the bills when the Legion is closed.

“We’re not in horrible shape like many legions but the bank account is definitely gone down, we’re hoping if we open three days per week that it will help us maybe. At least even if we break even,” Musselman said.

The Legion received the green light to open in May, but decided to remain closed to wait for gaming to be permitted.

“Half our regulars come to play pool or snooker, and without them it just wasn’t working,” Musselman said.

Musselman hopes opening the game room back up will make a difference. Beside volunteer staff, the Hinton Legion does have paid bar staff, who will return to work this week. One staff member will work one week and one will work the next week in order to keep the payroll low. 

Musselman added that the local Legion applied for funds through the national office that were meant to help out Legions during the pandemic.

“We did get money to pay a bill of $3,000, but that was it. They were saying you could ask for up to $20,000 or something, but nobody got it,” Musselman said.

Cameron McNeill, spokesperson for the minister of Veterans Affairs, said that any non-profit or charity organization providing support to vulnerable populations whose programs and services have been disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis is eligible for the Emergency Community Support Fund. Legions providing support to their communities or to Veterans “may” be eligible for funding, he said.

“Our response to this pandemic is ongoing, and we will continue to explore ways to ensure that we’re providing Canadians and our community partners with the support they need,” McNeill said.

Musselman noted that The Legion is important in any community, especially small towns for its senior population.

“We have a lot of people borrowing short or long term medical items. Especially crutches, scooters, wheelchairs, walking frames. Mobility help,” she said.

The Legion often builds wheelchair ramps into peoples homes that require it and provides space for the local cadets, guides, and brownies who have all their classes and activities at the Legion at no charge. 

“We’re lucky we can provide quite a bit for the young people to use the facility and for non profit groups to use and we don’t charge for a lot of non profit groups,” Musselman said.

Local donations to the poppy fund go directly to veterans in the community. Musselman noted that Hinton has quite a few veterans and added that it’s important to keep an eye on the community and to make sure seniors are doing okay.

“It’s hard to think about if the Legion wasn’t here because they do quite a bit,” Musselman said.

Nujma Bond, communications manager of the Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters, said 124 of 1381 national Branches face closure, while another 357 are in financial difficulty.

“For now, many Branches are turning to non-traditional ways to raise funds in order to keep the lights on, from bottle drives to Go-Fund-Me initiatives,” Bond said.

“It’s important to understand that funds raised during the National Poppy Campaign in November cannot be used for Branch operations. Those funds must go towards supporting Veterans and communities,” Bond said.

The Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters is hopeful there will be federal assistance that all Branches can access.