With a new executive and president at the helm, the Legion in Fort St. James is hoping to reopen its doors, possibly as soon as later this month.
Al Geernaert, on the Legion executive, says “we owe it to the people that originally built it.”
The Fort St. James Legion was built in the 1960s by Second World War veterans.
“Look at the effort they made to get it going,” says Geernaert.
But it’s not only for recognition of the Legion’s past founders that Geernaert wants to resurrect the local watering hole, it’s also because he “absolutely” misses it, and he believes the entire community does too.
There was an open and friendly atmosphere, says Geernaert, everyone was welcome, as long as they were 19 years old or older.
But the place was more than just a watering hole. The coffee was always on, so alcohol was not a requirement, and there was a sense of community.
“The thing I really miss is camaraderie, meeting with regular friends,” says Mike Goodall, Legion spokesman. He says people would always help out and fix anything or do any necessary chores that needed doing around the place.
A service club, the Legion was run as a non-profit business, so after all the bills were paid at the end of the year, any extra money would go to local groups. Over the years, Goodall says the Legion gave money to minor hockey, the ski team, figure skating and other local groups.
Goodall also says some people are confused about how the Legion works, because in the past members would have to sign non-members in.
He says this is no longer the case, and there are different levels of membership as well, so people can become members whether or not they served in the military.
In order to help raise money to put towards the local community groups, the Legion would hold dinners, sell drinks or snacks, and would host musical acts occasionally.
While the Legion closed due to financial losses after the downturn in the local economy, Goodall is optimistic that with new energy behind it and improving economics in the local area, the iconic community fixture for around 40 years can be revived.
Volunteers have been working to raise the funds to reopen the Legion. A recent garage sale of generously donated items from the community raised some of the needed capital, and Goodall says they have attracted more paid members as well.
But you don’t have to be a member to go to the Legion, and everyone seems to get along.
Geernaert says the more active or youthful would enjoy the billiards and darts in the games room, as well.
The basement of the Legion will also be available for rent for meetings or functions.
Anyone with inquiries related to the Legion, membership, or volunteering, can call Elaine Kerr, Legion president at 250-996-7284.