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Legion branches across P.E.I. face an uncertain future as the pandemic continues to curb key sources of revenue.
The branches have not been able to bring in money from weddings, bingos and other functions since the global coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic shut much of the province down in mid-March.
Making matters worse, none of the federal COVID relief programs apply to the legions, says Owen Parkhouse, vice-president of Dominion Command, which is the national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Legion.
He says letters have been sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with no response to date and provincial presidents are writing to premiers seeking financial support.
Parkhouse says the branches in Summerside, Charlottetown, O’Leary and Borden-Carleton are at greater risk of closing.
“If they don’t get something in the next couple of months, they will close,’’ he said.
“The remaining 13 are just holding on.’’
It is estimated that 124 of the 1,381 legion branches across Canada are likely to close permanently, and another 357 are facing serious financial hardship.
Bill Toussaint, president of Branch 1 in Charlottetown, says dances and bingos are the big money generators but they have not been allowed for more than three months due to restrictions imposed by the Chief Public Health Office.
If the branch is not able to get the dances and bingos going again in the next few months, it may be difficult to remain open, he added.
“Right now, we are struggling,’’ he said.
The legion’s building in Charlottetown was sold to Brighton Construction and Dynamic Fitness in 2015 with the local branch signing a five-year lease as a tenant. Provincial Command-appointed trustees had been in control of the Charlottetown branch for several months at that time trying to address the financially struggling operation.
Toussaint said selling the building and becoming a tenant gave the branch a new life. However, he feels the current space is larger than needed for the branch, which opened in 1926 and currently has 247 members.
Gordon Perry, president of Branch 5 in Summerside, also said the situation is quite precarious for his branch, which is home to 171 members.
He said permanent closure is a possibility “if it keeps going the way it is going.’’
He said dances, weddings and dart tournaments have long been good avenues for the branch to bring in money, but none of those revenue generators are currently taking place.
Parkhouse said money raised by legions on P.E.I. go towards running the branches as well as providing funds to cadet programs, Island hospitals, national track and field championships, and various charities that look after veterans.
The annual poppy fund, he noted, is to pay for programs for veterans, and is not used to bolster the branches.
“I think (closure of any branches) is at the detriment of communities because the legions are the custodians of remembrance,’’ he added.