Verdun legion preparing to move again amid differing opinions over future
Edward Kircoff has a tough time holding back tears when looking back at decades of involvement with the legion in Verdun.
It will leave its current location on Verdun Street at the end of its lease next month.
"After the time we put in here it's hard to explain," said the 82 year-old president of the oldest Legion branch in Canada, which opened after the First World War.
The legion branch had 1,500 members at its peak after the Second World War. Most who saw combat have passed away. Those remaining are older, and far fewer pass through the doors of the legion.
"The younger people would rather go downtown than come around the legion and sit around old people," said Kircoff with a laugh.
A little over a decade ago, the cash-strapped legion sold its original building in Verdun.
It then moved into a rented hall on Verdun Street near Lasalle Boulevard. The rent is getting too high, however, and revenue from the sale of alcohol and hall rental isn't enough to cover costs.
The city offered the legion some space at the Marcel-Giroux community centre on Bannantyne Street, but the downside is that it will only be able to sell alcohol on weekends, and they won't have exclusive use of the room.
Most legions in Canada sustain themselves by providing a space where members share drinks, laughs, and memories.
"How does a legion survive on coffee and soft drinks?" asked Kircoff, who opposed the move to the Marcel-Giroux centre.
Other members ultimately voted in favour of the move, arguing it's the only viable option to keep the spirit of the legion alive.
"The deal was to get over there, get a place to hold our general meetings, able to hold our executive meetings, be able to organize the parades," said Sterling Downey, a city councillor and a member of the legion.
But can a legion survive without the alcohol, the dart games, and the camaraderie?
It's a debate taking place across Canada, where many Legion halls were forced to close due to changing demographics and revenue streams.
The COVID-19 lockdown was also a severe blow to many of them.
"It's the camaraderie; we had our comrades, [and] our friends," said veteran Robert Campbell, who refuses to have anything to do with the new location.
Henry Harrison, however, traces his family services in the Canadian army to the Boer War at the end of the 19th century.
"We're not closing our chapter," he said. "Branch 4 stays alive. I look at it as a strategic withdrawal so we can be back stronger."
The key for the legion members, he said, is to make sure the community doesn't forget those who served their country.