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Legion building up for sale again

Andrew Rankin
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 16, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - For the second time in as many years the city's Royal Canadian Legion building is up for sale.

After getting cash from an outside branch to pay its bills earlier this month, some members are wondering just how long the community institution can survive.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Who knows how much longer weekly coffee get-togethers like this one on Tuesday will be held at the local Legion? The downtown building is up for sale as the organization struggles to make do. From left, honorary Legion member Ed Jeske, Second World War veteran and member John Sperry and past president and current member Lloyd Lush gather for a friendly chat. - Andrew Rankin/NNSL photo

Norman Wells' Legion president Tim Melnyk confirmed his branch donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Yellowknife's cash-strapped institution.

"We gave them enough money to help keep the branch open and make some important payments," said Melnyk.

Melnyk attributes public apathy as one of the primary reasons why the organization that's committed to serving veterans and various fundraising efforts for organizations such as the SideDoor youth centre, Stanton Hospital Foundation and the Abe Miller Centre, has fallen on hard times.

"In the city, nobody frigging cares," he said.

Yellowknife's Legion president Brian Campbell did not return phone calls.

Legion manager Nadene McMenemy downplayed its current challenges. She wouldn't comment on whether the organization accepted donations from Norman Wells or any other branch.

McMenemy said the downtown Legion building went up for sale on Jan. 5 simply because it's too big for the current membership numbers. In August 2007, the Legion building went on the market briefly.

She said its executive members are looking into purchasing a smaller building.

Either way, she said members have nothing to worry about.

"We'll do everything in our power to maintain this Legion," she said.

Past Yellowknife Legion president Lloyd Lush, who served from 2001 to 2006, said things started going downhill about a year and a half ago when the organization stopped hosting bingos after being informed by the territorial government it's illegal to do so in a liquor establishment. He said though current fundraising events such as meat raffles, darts and crib tournaments bring in some cash, it's not nearly enough.

During his tenure as president, Lush said the organization donated about $1 million to local initiatives in the community.

"We should be able to run our own bingos," said Lush. "We don't run bingos anymore and that took our life support from us. You can't make a lot of money on a bar. It was so important."

However, Delilah St. Arneault, manager of licensing and enforcement for the NWT Liquor Licensing Board, said Legions with a lottery licence could apply to the board to hold a liquor-free bingo on Sundays.

Second World War Veteran and Yellowknife Legion member John Sperry said the problem runs much deeper than that.

He said it's up to current members and the public to find ways to make more money and make the institution more relevant in the community.

"We all have to find a way to come up with a good number of enterprises that work," said Sperry. "We have to find ways to invite people in to increase membership so that the Legion can do its job. We might lose it, and that would be a shame."