Volunteers work on a past year’s poppy fund activities at the Trafalgar/Pro Patria Legion on Gorge Road in Victoria. The provincial government announced $1.5 million in one-time funding for B.C. and Yukon legions on June 2 to help them stay open through the remainder of the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

Volunteers work on a past year’s poppy fund activities at the Trafalgar/Pro Patria Legion on Gorge Road in Victoria. The provincial government announced $1.5 million in one-time funding for B.C. and Yukon legions on June 2 to help them stay open through the remainder of the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C. government announces $1.5 million in pandemic relief for struggling Legion branches

Property tax exemption is what Legions really need, Victoria branch president says

The province announced $1.5 million in one-time funding for B.C. and Yukon branches of the Royal Canadian Legion on Wednesday as many fight to keep their doors open.

Established in 1925, the non-profit Legion supports veterans across Canada, but in the last year they’ve struggled to do so. For much of the pandemic, branches have had to keep their doors closed and, when they have been allowed to open to some degree, members have been too worried about the virus to go.

Traditional revenue sources for the Legion have also dried up. Victoria’s Trafalgar/Pro Patria branch on Gorge Road usually relies on fundraising events, room rentals, gaming money and its catering service to support its approximately 1,300 members. Now, much of that isn’t possible.

“It’s been a scramble,” branch president Patti Stockton said. “We’ve had to pivot a lot.”

READ ALSO: Honouring veterans in a pandemic: COVID-19 put Legions at risk of closure

So, Wednesday’s announcement is a welcome one. Stockton said each Legion branch affected expects to receive between $5,000 and $10,000. According to the government, it is intended to mirror grants of $2,000 to $20,000 provided to hospitality, fitness and accommodation businesses during the most recent “circuit breaker.”

“It will certainly help for the operations,” Stockton said.

A bigger problem for the Trafalgar/Pro Patria branch is property taxes. The expected funding boost will barely scratch the $92,000 Stockton said they owe the City of Victoria this year.

In B.C., it’s up to municipalities to determine if and how much they tax local Legion branches. Stockton would like to see the government follow other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Ontario, in implementing a blanket tax exemption. That, she said, would help their branch far more than Wednesday’s funding announcement.

Until then, Trafalgar/Pro Patria is getting creative with takeout lunches and frozen meals, which Stockton said are increasingly popular in the community. And, with restrictions scheduled to lift, the branch will slowly begin to reopen.

Stockton hopes that as it does more people will come out. You don’t have to be a veteran or veteran’s family member to join, she said. It’s a safe, fun space for playing games, meeting new people and the occasional line dance.

“We’d love to see more members and more people supporting our veterans.”

Provincially, the 143 Legion branches raise more than $2.5 million for veterans and their families with the annual poppy campaign. They also raise money at other times of year, for distribution in their local communities.

Val MacGregor, president of the BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion voiced gratitude for the province’s financial help.

“We are thankful to Premier Horgan and the B.C. government’s commitment to honour and remember our veterans and their families by supporting the sustainability of our entirely volunteer-led branches,” she said in a release.

“As June 6, the annual date when we remember D-Day and the invasion of Normandy approaches, our 47,000 members in BC and Yukon are especially encouraged that we can continue our mission.”

Find a Legion branch near you, and more information at legionbcyukon.ca/branches/find-a-legion-branch.

READ ALSO: Langford Legion president concerned about city’s planned park development


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

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