ESTEVAN - Royal Canadian Legion Estevan branch No. 60 celebrated the grand opening of its newest addition to the building.
Thursday afternoon, branch president Jim (Frosty) Forrest and treasurer Leonard Grube were joined by Estevan MLA Lori Carr to open the non-profit's new bar, located at the legion hall. The project was completed largely thanks to the provincial government's support for the veterans.
"Each year our provincial government has been setting aside a million and a half dollars for veteran service organizations for this purpose, to improve their facilities, help keep them viable, so we're still here to do work in the community," Forrest said.
"Supporting the legions across the province is very important. The individuals that started these organizations are people that served our country and have served our province. They've built the foundation of what we have today. So to give back to them is a super easy decision," said Carr on behalf of the provincial government.
"Personally, it's really high on my priority list because I can see directly what they do in our communities, being a member of the legion also. And I value the partnership that we have with them as a community, and we wouldn't be where we are today without them."
Last year provincial funding helped the local legion improve accessibility to their hall, funding the construction of a wheelchair-accessible ramp and other modifications to make the hall more usable for people with disabilities.
"We have the annual funding," Carr said. "Last year, we had the opportunity to help them with the front entrance for accessibility. And now this year, we have the opportunity to help them with [the bar]. It truly is something that the legion prioritizes, something that was high on their list."
Forrest added that the bar has been on their mind for over 11 years, but they felt that using their general fund money for it would take away from other important initiatives in the community – something they didn't want to do. With the provincial support, the project became a reality, and the improvement will have a great impact on the legion and the community alike.
"Prior to this, if you came to an event here and you wanted to get a drink, you had to walk into the next hall. And you know people don't do that when they're at a concert or something," Forrest said. "This certainly improved that, and it improves the looks of the place, as we got our front entryway [renovated] as part of that whole project. And we're looking forward to it being a great sales tool when we're renting the hall for various events."
The legion applied for the provincial grant and in less than a month they were approved for just under $30,000. They proceeded with the project almost immediately, and in another month most of the construction was completed.
The project ended up costing just over $31,000. Not only were they able to build a bar and redo the hall entrance, but they also changed the lighting, which altogether made this part of the 1970s building look more modern. There are a few minor things that are still to be completed and then the legion wants to put up some pictures relevant to veterans.
"The legion has been a huge part of this community for years and years. And they have a facility unlike several others within the province. We're very fortunate to have them here. And … they truly do give back to the community, so by having this bar right on their main hall is an opportunity to make more money to put back into those organizations that they help fund," Carr said.
The bar will be open for appropriate legion events and for private gatherings if people renting the hall want it. Proceeds from the bar will help the non-profit organization with its expenses and will help them support others in the community and the local veterans.
"We have expenses here that are paid for by our events, so it's going to make that easier because this is going to make some profits, there's no doubt about that. So in that sense, it'll help free up money too, that we can use to help out in the community," Forrest said. "The legion's a big part of this community. We actually put a fair amount of funding out to the nursing home, Creighton Lodge, long-term care, the addictions centre, SMILE Services. We always make a donation to STARS Ambulance. I'm not sure what it was this year [for community support], I think last year was close to $80,000."
The legion dedicates all money raised through their poppy campaign to veteran affairs, and while their other fundraising efforts support a broader range of community organizations, they always keep veterans in mind.
"When we do our donations out of our general fund, always in the back of our mind is that there are veterans in the nursing home; there are veterans in Creighton Lodge, there are veterans in long-term care. Certainly, a lot of our veterans have a need for addiction counselling. Veterans' issues are always a consideration even with our general fund, and of course with our poppy campaign. The number one reason there's a legion is to support veterans and their families," Forrest said.