CORNER BROOK After a few years of declining memberships and a drive to attract new members, Royal Canadian Legions in this province are starting to report a stabilization in numbers.
At Branch 13 in Corner Brook, president Matthew Connolly said “we are stable and steady and our doors are open to everybody and we’re doing very well.”
He said the membership at Branch 13 stands at just over 200. While summer tends to be slower, Connolly said in the fall and winter when the branch holds general meetings, members fill the room.
“Everyone wants to come in and find out what’s going on, so they do show up for the meetings, which is nice,” said Connolly. “Because they’re genuinely interested and concerned here.”
The Royal Canadian Legion started accepting members from the general public in 2006 as a way to boost declining numbers. Connolly said looking at Branch 13’s membership now, the split between those with a military connection and those without is about half and half.
Connolly said being a legionnaire brings with it many benefits. For those with a military connection there is help with issues like pensions, widow allowances and a benevolent fund. There are also programs for the general population and many organization offer discounts on services to legion members.
But those are not the things Connolly said the legion uses to attract members.
“What we push here really is the camaraderie and it’s a place to go for all ages.”
Out at Branch 35 in Stephenville, president Dave Johnston said his membership is also pretty stable at around 120 members.
However, the number of active members is down.
“What I find now is a lot of the older people are not as active as they used to be,” said Johnston. He said it may be that they are not well or healthy enough to get out and be involved in the things the branch does, or because many members now live or work away. And he said that’s a problem that every organization in the Stephenville area is encountering.
Johnston said what’s needed now is for younger people to get involved.
He said the branch is picking up new members every year and has been trying a variety of methods to attract people.
Branch 35 has held membership evenings to invite people in and reached out to local reserve personnel. The branch has also invited people to events including a recent night held to recognize the contribution of members.
Johnston said the branch is also making an effort to raise its profile in the community by promoting the work it does and letting people know where the money it raises is going.
“To have them know what we’re doing ... that we’re there.”
A little farther west in St. George’s Branch 38 is also holding steady at about 103 members.
But unlike other branches, president Robert Garnier said “to be honest with you, we don’t recruit.”
Garnier said that’s because the legion building has a capacity of 150, so to have a function with 100 members and guests that puts the number in the building over 200.
“But we don’t turn anybody away,” he said.
He noted the branch has welcomed people transferring from other branches and members of the community who are interested in joining.