Royal Canadian Legion hopes to reverse declining membership
Published Wednesday, November 11, 2015 10:01PM EST
The 1,443 Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country share a common goal -- to make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families.
But that goal has become increasingly difficult to fulfill as its membership has dwindled over the last decade.
Between 2004 and 2014, its numbers dropped from about 400,000 to 300,000.
Behind the bar of the Lachine, Que., branch, Glenn Nicoll, the son of a soldier, gives a straightforward explanation.
"It's a shame, but we are dying of attrition," Nicol told CTV News.
In fact, 20 per cent of the Legion’s membership is older than 80.
In response, many Legions have downsized to smaller buildings and rent out space to pay the bills.
Membership has also been opened up to anyone who wants to support the cause, as opposed to just veterans.
But Legions still offer a place for veterans to seek solace among their peers with get-togethers, charity fundraisers and other social evets. After Remembrance Day services on Wednesday, the Lachine Legion held a friendly darts competition.
Patrick Brousseau, who served on a tour in the former Yugoslavia and who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was one of the veterans who dropped in for the games. He said he feels comfortable talking to other veterans at his branch.
Part of the Legion's membership struggles stem from its difficulty in attracting veterans from the more-recent conflicts. Some of them see the Legion as an old boys' club, reserved for those who served in the World Wars and their families.
But in recent years, the Legion has tried to modernize and offer comfort to new generations.
"We are reaching out to younger veterans, especially the ones coming back from Afghanistan," said Tom Eagles, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion.
For Legions to be the most effective, Brousseau says that new veterans need to feel as though they belong.
"For the person who comes in through that door, it should be 'Welcome home,'" he said.
With a report from CTV's Quebec Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin