By Sue Tiffin
Published June 21 2018
It’s a weekday morning and the clubroom in Minden’s Royal Canadian Legion on Highway 35 isn’t technically open yet but that doesn’t stop a fairly steady stream of people from coming through the front doors looking for Stacey Smitton.
They come with updates about when their club needs to book the Legion’s space or with questions about an upcoming event or stories of what just happened downtown. They expect Smitton the Legion’s bar manager to know the answers to their questions and she does.
But she’s also apt to check in with them too asking about their families their recent trip or how their health has been. Besides being the face they’re used to seeing behind the bar from Monday to Friday for the past five years they know her as their friend.
“I think the [patrons] like the one-on-one interaction” she said. “I feel like they’re my family because I see them every day. It’s a great place to be. It’s not crazy it’s not loud. It’s just a comfortable setting.”
Smitton became the Legion’s bar manager after stopping by at the club for a drink one day. After speaking with the executive she agreed to work one day a week – Thursdays – filling in for the previous longtime bar manager who was planning on retirement. After about six months she took on the role full-time.
“It’s really hard to find a job in this business that’s Monday to Friday” she said. “My life has always been nights and weekends and split shifts.”
Previous to the Legion Smitton worked in the summer at the Pinestone managing the beverage cart after she moved to the region from Oshawa area in about 2006.
“That was a great job” she said. “That really got me into the community I got to meet a ton of people there. I just went back every summer.”
The service industry has been Smitton’s line of work throughout her life she said of her previous work experience. She was a general manager of a Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Courtice in between Oshawa and Bowmanville for about 12 years before she moved north. In Haliburton she worked at the Family Restaurant before joining the Legion as one of two employees.
“I love this job” she said. “I love this job I love the people I love the commitment from the volunteers. I find that so incredible how this place comes together with all the volunteers and how well they work together and the executive. It’s just a great place to work. It’s an upbeat place it’s busy it’s steady and I like that. And it’s not just for me it’s not just working behind the bar. I do a lot of other things here. Sometimes pouring a beer is the least of the job. I like that I like to be busy. There’s always something happening here. It’s a busy little spot.”
When she started she also became a member of the Legion a place she admits she didn’t know much about prior to working there.
“When I came here I knew nothing about it” she said. “I knew nothing about the Legion. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been a member since Day 1 since I started. It’s just giving back to the community right? It’s important. This is here for seniors to use. We give back and donate a lot of money. It was a no-brainer to be a member.”
Though it used to be restricted to the general public a place for veterans to meet and socialize patrons of Minden’s Legion are now of all ages coming from all walks of life. Daily lunches held from noon to 2 p.m. karaoke nights live entertainment nights and fish and chip lunches and dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays are full.
“We still see a few veterans but not many” said Smitton. “There’s a lot of regular clientele a lot of age groups not just seniors. If you start to look at the membership a little bit you can see there’s some of the new generation coming in. The Legion needs that to see young people getting involved. But on a daily basis if you look around the bar you’ll see different faces.”
Some of the Legion regulars start to roll in at around 10 to 11 a.m. when the bar is open laughed Smitton. Visitors might stop by daily but some come on a more weekly basis. Those who stop in or gather in the main club room with its high ceilings and numerous windows are a tight-knit group cracking jokes with each other watching a game or just enjoying social time in the bright space newly renovated for accessibility. Their familiarity with each others’ vehicles combined with their view of Highway 35 and the entrance to the Legion’s parking lot makes for plenty of gentle ribbing and comments if drivers haven’t say parked between the lines properly.
“I have this thing as soon as I see someone pulling in I will yell ‘someone’s coming!’ and then everyone looks” laughed Smitton. “So now they’re doing it. ‘Someone’s coming!’ It’s kind of silly but it gets everyone … ‘who’s coming who is it? What’s happening?’… excited about it. On any given day there are jokes flying around. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s never boring here.”
If time passes before Smitton sees someone she makes a call to check in on them noting that many have become like family. She has a photo of Keith Purdy a good friend of hers posted behind the bar.
“I see a lot of faces” she said. “And a lot of snowbirds. So that’s nice once the spring hits to see those faces again because they’re gone for the winter. It’s nice to see them back. Also a lot of people who I’ve gotten to know through here who I’ve built friendships with. Not just serving them but I have a personal connection which I really enjoy. Sometimes I feel like I know too much about my regulars. ‘I didn’t need to know that!’ But then they’re probably saying the same thing about me.”
Smitton said those relationships mean that many of the Legion members or patrons hang out during the off-hours too attending weddings and events together.
“There’s a lot that happens” she said. “Sometimes on the weekend I will be with a lot of the people who are here on a daily basis. I’ve made a lot of connections to people here. I’ll be a Legion member for as long as this place is here.”
The regular visitors have also attended funerals together.
“That’s the sad end of it” she said. “I do see some of the regular seniors that I’ve gotten to know pass that’s the hard part but that’s part of life. It is tough when you get to know someone fairly well. I’m not going to say that’s a downside [of the job] but it’s definitely difficult sometimes.”
The location of the Legion not downtown or mingling with the other highway hot spots means that sometimes it’s overlooked by Minden residents or those driving through at highway speeds.
“People will pop in they say ‘we’ve never been in here it’s so nice we drive by all the time” said Smitton. “That’s the thing a lot of people just drive by. [They say] ‘I’ve been driving by here for 10 years and never popped in it’s so nice in here.’”
Crediting the welcoming nature of the building the staff the executive and volunteers and the customers who make the Legion their gathering spot Smitton suggests people come in to try the Legion for lunch or pop in to say hello.
“Get in here” she said.