The Fernie Legion has voted to approve the sale of a portion of its building to a new distillery opening in Fernie.
In a special general meeting, held on March 2, 30 members of the Legion voted in favour of the sale, and seven voted against.
The offer to purchase now goes through two more links in the chain of command. Recommendation is required from Branch Advisory, a part of BC/Yukon Command. If the recommendation is made to sell, it will then go to the Admin/Finance Committee at Command. If it passes these two points, the Legion will sell half of the building.
“In every respect, I see it as a really positive move,” said Jennifer Cronin, president of the Fernie Legion.
The half of the building sold will be the southwest half, currently holding the legion hall and the lot, which holds the horseshoe pit, backing on to The Royal Hotel.
The inquiry about the possibility to purchase was first brought up a year ago, and at the time it was requested as either a lease or a purchase. Due to the age of the building, the Legion decided a lease would not be in its best interest as constant upgrades from the position of a landlord would not be feasible or financially sound.
”The best case scenario, was to allow them to purchase the hall, put forth that proposal, and they would do the upgrades on their side of the building, and we’re just responsible for the part we would continue to own,” said Cronin.
The portion sold compared to the portion kept, add up to a near-perfect 50/50 split.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Cronin. “Legions throughout the country are having such a hard time, because of the reduction in the number of members.”
Financially, Legions have been struggling due to the lack of members and guests, who she believes don’t realize the Legion can be a home for everyone. Due to this misconception, many Legions around the country have been closing shop.
“The perception that you have to be a member to attend the Legion… is totally not true,” said Cronin. “That myth has been perpetuated for a long time now… They think it’s their grandfather’s nightclub. It still has the dignity, and it still has that meaning and integrity, but it’s open to everyone.”
Speaking again to the agreement between the Legion and the distillery, Cronin said, “This is a really innovative way to keep the branch open, and it’s also an amazing partnership with a business model that is new. You just don’t find distilleries on every corner.”
She also believes the distiller will fit in very well with the plan for the Legion.
“They won’t be doing any of the things we do, it won’t be a conflict,” said Cronin. “They won’t be taking business from us, we won’t be taking business from them.”
“The owners of Fernie Distillers, Andrew Hayden and Jill Rutherford (have) made it very easy for us to see them as a perfect fit with our branch. They’re Legion members, and they also have the sense of what it means to be a Legion member, what the Legion means to a community,” said Cronin.
There were some concerns raised in the vote, that the Ladies Auxiliary would no longer be able to put on their monthly dinners, due to the kitchen being in the Legion Hall. However, the sale agreement will allow the ladies to enter the kitchen, make their dinners, and return to serve it in the lounge.
“We’re trying to accommodate everyone we can, but the reality is, if we didn’t do something like this, we wouldn’t have a branch,” said Cronin. “We can’t continue to function at break even, which is what it has been for the past year.”
This influx of money from the sale will allow the Legion to continue doing what it has been doing for many years within the community. Some of their annual tasks include the donation of scholarships, bursaries, youth group support, veteran home fundraising and hospital support donations.
“I think the Legion is so embedded in the community,” said Cronin. “It’s like a piece of furniture, for example. You can walk by it all the time and it’s always there, you don’t notice it until it’s gone…”
Given the final approval, renovations will begin. Cronin sees this starting to happen as soon as a month from now.