“We'll be here no matter what happens,” said Royal Canadian Legion Tottenham Branch president Gary Brown, of the Legion's efforts to continue to be a viable organization despite the fact that it has currently closed its doors due to the stay-at-home provincial mandate.
The closure means the Legion has not been able to rent out its halls, which is a main source of income. Over the previous year, it has been severely restricted when it comes to rentals since the number of people allowed to gather indoors had been reduced to ten at one point.
That along with the fact that its bar is closed means another source of income has been shut down.
Currently the branch is maintaining its bills thanks to a $20,000 grant that was issued by the provincial government and a small grant that came from federal level.
“As far as our bills go, the problem is with hydro,” Mr. Brown explained. “They cannot get into the building to read our meter so they are averaging what the price was when we were open. Being closed we're still getting a hydro bill of $1,600 a month and we're not even open. What makes the money for the branch is the hall rentals.”
The Legion is a very social place with members routinely spending time with friends and enjoying the facilities. The restrictions have meant that some members have been cut off from their social time with others.
“My biggest concern with this whole thing is we have some older members, and non-members that come to the branch and that's their only source of communicating with anyone else outside of their home,” Mr. Brown said. “That's an issue – it's really concerning. We were closed, and when we re-opened it was good to see them, even when we were allowed to have only ten people there.”
The Tottenham branch is fairly large when it comes to floor space so when they were allowed to have ten people indoors, it didn't make a lot of sense to see so few people spaced out over such a large area.
Mr. Brown said the situation was much better when they were allowed to have an occupancy based on a percentage.
The $20,000 grant will allow the branch to meet its bills for around five months.
There have already been several Legion branches around the country who could not continue under the COVID restrictions and have closed their doors for good.
However, Mr. Brown said the Tottenham branch will remain. He credits local resident's participation and support as a big factor in the branch's success.
“The community is really behind it which is good to see,” Mr. Brown said. “Without that community there wouldn't be a legion anywhere. Our local baseball players come here after a game and have beer before going home. A lot of them play at Coventy Park and they still come back here. They're very supportive.”
Right now the legion is remaining in the dark until the restrictions are lifted, but the branch executive are hopeful of a return to regular activities in the future.
“We're holding our own for now, it's just very hard on your nerves,” Mr. Brown said of waiting out the situation. “We're all volunteers but it's the same as running a business so the stress is there every day.”
The Legion is also involved in a class action law suit against an insurance company. The Legion had business interruption insurance, and insurance companies are refusing to pay because COVID wasn't specifically named in the policy.
Once the current restrictions are lifted the Legion can open its doors and once again welcome members.
For now, the branch is concerned with maintaining the building and the integrity of the organization to make sure members do have a place to return to.
Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times