The local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has left behind almost a century of memories at its former location on Mills Road in North Saanich for Sidney’s SHOAL Centre for Seniors.
The non-profit organization representing veterans moved into its new location early this month.
Ryan Trelford, communications director for the Saanich Peninsula Branch #37 of the Royal Canadian Legion, said the branch operated out of a building in the 1600-block of Mills Road for 90 years. It had rented the building’s basement after having sold the building some time ago because of financial difficulties. A music school and a karate school also operate out of the building. Plans call for the basement previously used by the legion to house a daycare.
Trelford said many older members feel nostalgic and sad about moving. On the other hand, the move will also allow the legion to raise awareness and membership numbers.
“There are mixed feelings, but we are looking forward to doing something different,” he said. The branch currently has about 220 members.
Trelford said the move became necessary because of reasons outside the branch’s control.
“So [the new owner] bought the building and one of the conditions of becoming a new landlord [required by a financial institution] was that we had to cease our liquor licence,” he said. “So they said that we were welcome to stay and that we would have to pay $1,500 rent per month.”
Trelford said that figure would have been more than double the current rate. Without a liquor licence to generate revenue, the branch was becoming increasingly concerned about whether it could continue, he said.
“So we dithered for a couple of months, and then [the landlord] told us that he had sourced a new tenant that would come effectively in April. So due to us delaying for consultations and conversations, we were eventually given notice for the April 1 move date.”
Trelford stressed that the move is “not precipitated by any negative feelings” towards the new owner. “It’s not within the [landlord’s] hands.”
So will the branch serve liquor at the SHOAL Centre? “We are not sure right now,” said Trelford late last year. “At this time, we are thinking about abandoning our licence.”
Reasons include transfer costs and a lack of guarantee that the licence would transfer, he added. While not critical, the liquor licence is an added benefit, he said.
Trelford said branch members are excited about moving to Sidney, because most of them already live in the community. So do many others who support the organization without being members, he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to have more people come in,” he said. “For a lot of people, it is within walking distance. I think a lot of members actually live in the SHOAL Centre.”
It is not clear for how long the branch will operate out of the SHOAL Centre. Trelford said the agreement with the facility is open-ended.
“We can hopefully be there for the next two to three years as a medium-term plan,” he said. “It won’t have much of an impact on the SHOAL Centre. Our operations are fairly minor. But we do hope in the long term to secure a facility somewhere in Sidney where we can base our operations. It’s important for us to have some sort of physical presence. Right now, being in the SHOAL Centre works, but it is not a long-term solution.”
The legion’s current experience unfolds against the backdrop of declining membership numbers in branches across the country and rising expenses, with many local legions having to cease or combine operations.
Trelford said the experience of this branch shows the importance of having a physical space and responding to new situations. “It’s a good lesson for other community organizations to not take their space for granted and to be able to react fluidly as change arises,” he said. “I think that we have been a little slow to come to terms with what is happening.”
This said, Trelford predicts that the move will benefit the legion in the long term.
“In the big picture, it’s a good move for us,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us not to reinvent ourselves, but to re-exert ourselves, to bring about some positive change.”
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