/Legions opening their doors again to community 
The Minden Legion in busier times last November on Remembrance Day. Legions are now taking measures to allow for social distancing and safety inside as Phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan during the pandemic allows for buildings to invite guests in again. /File photo

Legions opening their doors again to community 

By Sue Tiffin

While three local Royal Canadian Legions in the county – Haliburton Branch129 Wilberforce Branch 624 and Minden Branch 636 – closed theirdoors alongside other Legions across the country on March 17 to helpreduce the spread of coronavirus they didn’t stop helping veterans inneed during the shut-down or those in need of financial support.

Now with Phase 3 initiated by the province allowing buildings to be openwith social distancing measures in place the Legions are opening backup for those looking to get out of the house and socialize once againwhich may recoup some of their losses.

Wilberforce’s Douglas C. Hatch branch reopened on July 22.
“We just reopened yesterday and we’re going to see how it goes” saidpresident John Glassey. “We’ve had to reduce our hours and we’reworking with what we’ve got. There’s some of the stuff we can’t do right now – a lot of the events we would have have been cancelled we can’tdo dances or anything like that.”
Glassey said since March theLegion has had to cancel numerous events and fundraisers that usuallybring the community together and help fundraise for the Legion’sefforts: fishing derbies horseshoe tournaments a golf tournament – all cancelled while the country’s top medical officer asked for people tostay home and then the province’s emergency state called for nogatherings eventually allowing only small gatherings.
“Those are the things that make us the money so it’s going to be a hard go but we’ll do what we can” said Glassey.

Though last week’s first day turnout wasn’t a big one Glassey said it hadn’tbeen advertised much as the Legion’s volunteers were “just trying to get things back in order and make sure everything’s up to par.”
Thingswill look a bit different as the Legion reopens. Card nights on Mondayscan’t happen due to the close contact of participants nor Saturday’smeat draws because of the handling of cash and tickets but darts onWednesday night with participants wearing masks might be an option andFriday wing nights can still happen even if a jam session might not bepossible.

Phase 3’s allowance of groups up to 50 people insidewhile still social distancing can allow for more options than takeoutwhich the Wilberforce branch didn’t implement due to a lack of heavytraffic along Burleigh Road but the schedule of the Legion’s futurereopening all depends on whether or not people come and what theexecutive – which hasn’t been able to get together for elections yet orhold a general meeting with enough participating for quorum – decidewill work best.

Glassey said it’s been a rough go – the groups thatmake use of the building haven’t been able to and though not using therestaurant saved in gas for the kitchen and not using the buildingoffered a relief of the amount of electricity being used the airconditioner is now up and running again. Legions across Canada haven’tqualified for much of the government help that is available andalthough Legion Command offered those in need some emergency help manyLegions are still struggling with the lost revenue caused by theclosure.
“Put it this way our expenses are a lot more than our income right now” said Glassey.

Still Glassey said the branch isn’t looking at closure something that morethan 150 of the Legion’s 1381 branches might be facing according tomedia reports last week.
“Not really closure” he said. “I mean Iknow it’s going to be tight we have a few things we can back up on.Normally this branch would make our money in the summer and that getsus through the winter. Right in March when we shut down that was thebeginning of our better season and that would go through to October. So we’ve got a few months to try and gain some back. So we’ll see what wecan do.”

With hockey play-offs coming back to broadcast Glassey ishopeful the community will feel comfortable coming out to take in agame or that others might pick up some takeout or get together onceagain though he noted there might be some patrons who were “going to be not too keen” on wearing a mask and social distancing.
“I guesswe’re all going to have to get used to it around here” he said. “Imean everyone’s going to have to do it no matter what they do.”

Over at the Haliburton Legion Don Pitman first vice-president took abreak from painting and cleaning up in the basement to speak to theupcoming reopening of the Mountain Street branch.
Apart from the work of the women’s auxiliary the Haliburton branch doesn’t offer food and so opening for takeout wasn’t an option. Pitman thought a soft openingmight take place in August.
In the meantime volunteers have beeninside doing what Pitman said was “a little bit of tidy-up” andpreparing to open the doors once again.
“We’ve just started meetingsback up” he said. “We’re kind of hoping to be back in business from anexecutive and a leadership standpoint probably within the next 15 to 20days and then we can sort of strike out anew. We’re going to have totrim our sails and change our course a little bit because it’s alldictated by what the government allows you to do.”

The Haliburton Legion is also not currently facing closure according to Pitman.
“We’re not in dire straits as others …  because of some really prudentfinancial management on some of our former leaders here but you knowthere’s a lot of places around that are really struggling a lot ofother Legions that we’ve been made aware of that are just kind ofhanging on by their teeth” he said noting the news of potentialclosures across Canada. “We’re very fortunate here because we’re alittle bit of the heartbeat of Haliburton so we do a lot of well when we can we do a lot of weddings and events in our 2300 square foothall upstairs. But that’s all kind of stopped right now.”
Pitman noted the Legion had recently undergone renovations that increase its attractiveness as a rental facility.
“We did a bunch of renovations last year upstairs and our rentals hadramped up substantially to what they were because people were likingwhat they saw as far as the improvements go” he said. “And we’re going to try to keep that trend going.”

Pitman said he hoped to let people know that the Legion would be opening again soon and that it would belooking for the community’s support “and we’ll continue to support thecommunity.”
“We’re always interested in people who want to lend ahand either by body or by cheque book. We’re pretty fortunate we’rekind of holding our own we’re just like everybody else just trying tocope with COVID changes and limited numbers.”

The Mabel Branniganbranch in Minden has been open for takeout during Phase 2 and alsoreopened the building to a restricted number of guests last week.
“Takeout was nowhere near our normal business but it was OK” said president Jim Ross. “It gave us a little bit of a revenue stream and communitysupport. That was OK not great but a little bit of revenue helped pay the bills so to speak.”
Despite the response not being overwhelming Ross said “the word’s getting out there.”

The Minden branch has been able to keep its contribution level to veteransand community groups including upcoming school programs that assiststudents in need but Ross said the Legion had experienced a “seriousdrop in revenue” over the time it had been closed not being able toopen for celebrations of life weddings and group rentals.
“Andremember this is tourist season up here this is normally our busiestsection of the year and we’ve been closed” he said.

Changes havebeen made to the Legion inside according to recommendations from theHaliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit including tablesbeing spaced six feet apart a change in patio tables to make them morecomfortable and easy to clean and staff wearing personal protectionequipment.
“I think we’re a very very safe environment” said Ross. “We’ve taken all of those steps.”
He noted members and staff would like to see the crowds coming back to the restaurant again “people back in the building and feeling safe andgetting back into the swing of things” but said everyone has to feelsafe for that to happen.

“I don’t think there’s any danger ofclosure” he said. “We’re fine that way. And again we know we have astrong community base and well I’m sure that they’ll be back whenthey’re able when they feel safe. People have got to feel safe in thebuilding. That’s not just us it’s everywhere that is reopening there’s fear on the side of people to get back inside they’ve got to know it’s safe. I think we’ve spent a lot of time committing ourselves to thatso I think it will happen. We’ll get back we’ll get our people back and we’ll be up and running.”

Ross said he really wanted to see the weekly activities held for seniors: darts euchre card games up and running again.
“This is where we’re really hurting this is the really difficult part isbecause we are really the seniors centre in the community” he said. “We don’t have a seniors centre and the Legion kind of took over part ofthat role. They haven’t been able to play cards and they haven’t beenable to play darts. All of that we still can’t do it because you haveto maintain the social distancing. And so until we get the go ahead forthat we can’t do it. The seniors are really hurting. They haven’t beenable to socialize and it doesn’t sound like much but weekly card gamesare very important to them and that hasn’t been able to happen and sowe’re really sorry about that but we’ll get it back as soon as we can.”
When further restrictions are lifted and closer gatherings are allowed Ross said the activities would be quick to come back.

“Once we’ve got the go-ahead from the health unit to be able to do it we’lldo it because we know that they’re really hurting and we want to getthat back up and operating as fast as we can” he said.
Now the Legion hopes the next few months allow for business before the winter comes.
“We’ll get through the pandemic all right” said Ross. “Our biggest concern is the upcoming winter. We’ve been without revenue for a long period oftime and up here it’s a long cold winter. That’s when we have themajority of our expenses. We’re hoping we can get enough revenue streamto meet our obligations for the winter. That’s our biggest concern ofthe whole thing. We’re back open for business. And we have very strongcommunity support we’re hoping that translates into a return to normal some kind of normalcy as to that branch we can get on with ourbusiness and start contributing back to the community and do the thingswe do.”