The vets and their friends are gathering at the Legion hall again. Call your local branch and become a member!   JEFF GAYE

The Lakeland’s Royal Canadian Legion branches are reopening as conditions permit. Bonnyville Branch 183 has been opening for its Friday steak nights for a few weeks, and Cold Lake Branch 211 has just resumed modified Monday-to-Saturday hours.

St. Paul Branch 100 is assessing the ongoing pandemic situation, and won’t offer their biweekly fundraising suppers until fall at the earliest.

Both the Bonnyville and Cold Lake branches took advantage of the downtime to do some work on their buildings. The Bonnyville Legion moved its bar to the same end of the main clubroom as their kitchen, while the Cold Lake Branch did extensive interior painting, redecorated a secondary lounge, and rebuilt its main bar.

The Legions, which had previously served members and guests from the bar, now offer table service to comply with Covid-19 opening regulations. Seating is modified to allow for appropriate distance between people.

And the Cold Lake branch is running customer tabs so staff only have to handle one payment transaction per customer. 

Branch 211 president Todd Rorke says their steak nights are still on hold and may not return in the popular cook-your-own/buffet format, depending on how regulations develop. But, he says, the branch is looking at patio seating before the end of the summer.

“Some of the rules are being relaxed by AGLC and hopefully this will allow us to licence the outside,” he said. “They’re trying to convince more people to sit outside and more businesses to put some of the services outside. So, look, we’re just waiting to see and get the final word from all the contractors and AGLC. By the end of this summer, we could start seeing a licensed patio.”

The Bonnyville branch has been licenced for outdoor consumption on its lawn, and is building appropriate fencing.

The core of the Legion’s activity is service to veterans, and Rorke says that hasn’t stopped during the shutdown—although, he says, having the branch open makes it easier for veterans to drop in.

“Our service officer has always been in contact with the vets that needed help, over the phone or by email. That’s always gone on and it never stops,” he said.

The Legion’s national leadership has appealed to the Prime Minister to expand pandemic support programs in a way that will help local branches survive. Dominion President Thomas D. Irvine has warned that many branches across the country may close because government support for nonprofits is inadequate.

“I am angered to see that businesses whose sole purpose is to provide entertainment are getting relief, while our Legion Branches—which are literally helping to save lives and improve communities—are struggling with the fear of closure, with no government help in sight,” Irvine said.

The loss of revenue over the past several weeks, along with the ongoing costs of operating their buildings, will have an effect on all local branches’ finances. Rorke said it’s a good time for members to drop in and say hi and support their Legion. And the need for volunteers is as strong as ever.

“I definitely look forward to seeing any and all of our members and their guests,” he said. “And the need for volunteers is probably going to fill up again, that never goes away.”