Jennifer Cronin/The Free Press
Branch #36 of the Royal Canadian Legion has been undergoing a much-needed transformation. Over the past year, they have installed two large windows into what had been a dark lounge in desperate need of daylight. They have also added on a permanent outdoor patio which overlooks Station Square and became the best seat in the house for the Wednesday Summer Socials this past summer.
The transformation continues inside the lounge. With the sale of the hall portion of the building this past spring, the Legion received a welcome infusion of cash which has allowed the executive to start to update the space which for years has been held together with duct tape and prayers. For many years the branch has not been in a position to spend money, although the executive has long realized that they would need to do so in order to attract clientele and keep the doors open.
The decision to sell a portion of the building did not come easily, however, the option to lease the under-utilized space was not practical. Expensive repairs would have been required to bring the hall portion of the building up to a standard that would have made it legal and safe to lease to prospective tenants. This would have cost money the Legion did not have, and ultimately would have forced the branch to close its doors. Recognizing this, the membership voted to sell the space in 2017.
When Andrew Hayden and Jillian Rutherford came forward with the offer to purchase the space to house Fernie Distillers, it was the opportunity the Fernie Legion needed.
“It is a great relationship,” said newly-elected president Jeannie Watson.
Watson has been involved with the Legion in a variety of capacities for many years, including helping with the Saturday meat draws, looking after the cash, helping with the lotteries, making the Friday night dinners and acting as bar chair. Her new role as president is not a giant leap, and she is excited about the ongoing renovations.
“This is going to be awesome, it is a shot of adrenalin for the Legion. It is exciting to see something happening. You can see the progression,” Watson said.
The new bar, surfaced with hardwood flooring, and surrounded by corrugated steel is nearing completion. This bar will have a whole new tap set up, new sinks, glasswasher and ice machine. It is modern, and yet the repurposed artillery shell lighting over the bar keeps the military feel and yet looks unique.
Upon completion of the new bar area, the old bar and cooler will be razed and the space opened up to allow for another pool table and more seating. New flooring and new ceiling tiles will finish this stage of the renovations. If successful in their application for funding, new washrooms will be added to the to-do list.
“This is all being done by a small group of people with lots of energy making a really big change,” Watson shared.
Long has there been the idea that you must be a member of the Legion to socialize there. This is not the case. The Legion is all-inclusive, and they welcome everyone.
“We have been struggling for years,” said Watson. “Our mandate is to support veterans, youth and seniors, but we cannot support the community if we do not get support from the community.”
The next step for the Fernie Legion is to hire a full time Bar Manager to oversee the day to day operations of the branch.
When the bar renovations are complete, along with the regular dart league, pool league and Saturday meat draws, there are some other ideas in the works.
“We would like to restart Open Mic night as well as possibly have meals catered monthly by different restaurants in town.
“We need to set ourselves apart [from the other bars in town],” Watson said.
As a not for profit organization, over and above operating costs, all monies support veterans and their families, seniors and youth.
“Come and join us. Everyone is welcome,” Watson reiterated.