First Regina legion to be partially demolished
The first legion branch in Canada, located on the 1800 block of Cornwall St., is shown in Regina, Sask. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. (Roy Antal / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, January 6, 2013 10:41AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 6, 2013 2:01PM EST
REGINA -- Cherished photos are packed away, the dance hall is long silent and the lights are about to be turned off for the last time in the auditorium of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 001 Regina.
By the end of January, the downtown building that has welcomed veterans since 1947 must be empty.
The property has been sold and the entire rear of the building -- which houses the Atlantic Auditorium, the Lancaster Lounge and the Dieppe Cafeteria -- is to be demolished to make way for a parkade.
Only the facade will remain with room for a museum and a small watering hole.
"That sounds terrible and it just rips me right apart to lose the heritage of this in the back," said branch president Terry Duncan.
"The only heritage part, so to speak, is the front. But to lose the history of the back portion of this building, it just rips me apart. But it's got to be done if we want to be in existence for the veterans that remain, for those that are coming back and for the families of the veterans."
Branch 001 was the first branch of the Royal Canadian Legion to receive a charter. The top portion of the building was completed in 1951 and officially opened by then-Princess Elizabeth.
Legions began as places of camaraderie for large numbers of veterans from the First and Second World Wars.
In its heyday, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 001 Regina had as many as 2,500 members.
But Duncan noted there aren't any living First World War vets, Second World War vets are well into their 80s and 90s and Korean vets are into their 80s as well.
The branch currently has between 400 and 450 members.
"They were all the same people and they felt different than the rest of the population and they needed a place to congregate," explained Duncan, who joined the legion 42 years ago to honour his grandfathers, his father and his uncles, who all served.
"Now, we still have veterans coming back from our different wars and conflicts and peacekeeping, but it's a different society. They're not joining the legions, not all of them ... It's not the same numbers."
Duncan said there was little choice but to sell as revenue dwindled.
"We were in a position where we were going to have to consider closing the doors because without donations we weren't able to keep the bills paid. And that's not been recent, that's been history. That goes back quite a few years," he said.
"We researched all avenues. We tried to get investors to come in and keep the building as is and just renovate."
The entire building needed work: everything from plumbing to electrical had to be upgraded.
Duncan said the only group to come forward was a property developer, who plans to build the parking lot.
The front part of the building, the tower, the stained glass windows and murals depicting Canada's military history -- which are covered by a municipal heritage designation -- will remain and are to be renovated.
That building will house a museum and the Vimy Lounge, where patrons will still be able to pick up a pint. There won't be any facilities for catering or for weddings and dances, but Duncan said "we will still have a place for the veterans."
"It matters that the legion remains here. It's the only alternative that we had that we could see."