The Fernie Legion is experiencing low membership numbers, which have dipped in the past decade. According to David Black, President of the Fernie Legion, membership numbers are a third of what they were 15 years ago, and he believes the problem is nation-wide.
“It’s across Canada. The largest branch in Canada was Calgary No. 1 and it went bankrupt three years ago. They’ve spent the last three years trying to work with developers trying to find a way to redevelop the site, and maybe come up with an option for having something,” he said.
Black said the depleting membership numbers are partly due to people not understanding that you don’t have to be a veteran yourself to be a member of the Legion.
“Declining membership is really, really difficult. Part of it has to do with the whole concept of veterans because of, I’ll call it the illusion, that you need to be a veteran or have a relative who is a veteran to be able to join, which is not true,” he said. “Anybody can join it understanding that the purpose of the legion is to support veterans.”
A membership costs $48 a year for a regular member and $40 a year for seniors or veterans. Of that fee, $40 of it goes to services that support veterans, both on a local and national level.
“The other aspect to veterans, which is a bit difficult these days, is that everyone looks at the term veteran and still thinks World War II, and it’s not. It’s Afghanistan and Bosnia and the Golan Heights and Cambodia and the Congo. Most of the veterans today have served after the Korean War,” said Black.
According to Black, most Legions operate on a model that dates back to WW2, where millions of soldiers were sent home after the war.
“The military tradition is that every unit has their own messes that provide collective food and beverage services. They wanted that when they came back, and that’s what the Legions provided, and that’s what they became was their mess – their hometown version of a military mess, where they could come and hang out and be understood,” said Black.
“If I’m 25 years old, I could go anywhere in town and be comfortable. I don’t have PTSD, I don’t have all of those issues that drive me to a place like this where I have other people I can talk to.”
Low membership numbers are also affecting the way the Legion operates, as they are having difficulties meeting quorum at their member meetings to delegate where their funds should go.
“We’ve got to get rid of money. For gaming and lottery, what happens is every year, you have to account to them as to how you got rid of the money,” said Black. “We hit the end of the license period and we still have money in the bank that we shouldn’t have and it’s only there because we didn’t get quorum, but then the gaming society calls us and says that we have to get rid of the money, but then we have to get quorum. So you’re stuck in this vicious circle that gets very difficult to manage.”
Black is considering the options to cut the operating costs of the Legion, such as downsizing or relocating, which brings its own issues and challenges to compete with.
The Legion currently hosts dart leagues and bingo nights and is available to rent as a hall space, with some stipulations.
To become a member of the Legion or to find out more about their services, fill out an application form at the Legion.
The Legion is hosting a Special General Meeting on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. and Black encourages everyone available to participate.