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Live entertainment, barbecues and sports: Legion shakes things up to attract a younger audience

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Louis Patrick wants to make one thing clear. He says Legion Hall is not an “old man’s drinking club.”

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“There aren’t a lot of old people out there.

Yet, like many chapters in southwestern Ontario and across Canada, the Delaware chapter is working to attract young people as the number of Canadian military veterans and their families, once the lifeblood of service clubs, dwindles. They are trying to reform themselves.

Additional offerings for youth may include a live band. Legion chapters may also include repeal of the old cardinal rule that everyone must remove their hats upon entering.

“We’re trying to do one band a month. We’re going to introduce a group aimed at the 40-50 year old group,” said Patrick. “We also support more local bands, and they also have younger people coming to play.”

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For Jim Hoefnagels and his Strathroy-based band Speed ​​Wobble, playing with Legion chapters across the region was an opportunity to hone their craft and support the Legions in need of more members.

“The whole idea is to have your friends go and fill the place and hopefully the word spreads more and more,” he said.

Live entertainment, barbecues, and sports are among the things some legions are using to cater to younger crowds.

Statistics suggest that there is no time to lose.

Louis Patrick, president of the Royal Canadian Legion chapter in Delaware, said booking a band to play once a month was one way the club tried to attract new members.  (Derek Ruttan/London Free Press)
Louis Patrick, president of the Royal Canadian Legion chapter in Delaware, said booking a band to play once a month was one way the club tried to attract new members. (Derek Ruttan/London Free Press)

Once as common as banks and churches in Canada, the number of Legion chapters has declined over the decades from 1,600 just a decade ago to 1,350.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, only about 25,500 veterans of that conflict and the 1950s Korean War remain in a country that served more than a million people in World War II. The average age of veterans who survived World War II was 96 last year.

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Richard McLennahan, former president of Port Stanley’s Legion Chapter 410, said, “We need to get young people on board and become members so that we can keep the Legion alive.

He noted that the number of veterans alive in Canada today is dramatically lower than in the United States.

Only 15% of Legion members today—down from 600,000 in 1984 to 250,000—are under the age of 55.

Nujma Bond, spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion, said nationally, the Legion is taking a variety of approaches, from making halls “modern and bright” to hosting community-themed events. says there is.

“We’re updating some outdated rules and focusing on improving the overall experience.” For example, adding perks like discounts with partner organizations and allowing members to join local chapters online. I am trying to

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Some, such as the one at Port Stanley, have even gone so far as to abolish the no-hat obligation, a long-standing tradition honoring fallen soldiers and queens.

“Ten or 15 regulars wear hats all the time,” McClenaghan says, warning that they can’t be worn sideways or backwards.

“And it looks like they brought in younger members and younger people.”

Bond said the Legion is expanding with new members on a daily basis, even as the number of veterans is declining. Last year he had over 15,000 members and a third of his new members were under the age of 40.

Membership is still strong at Grand Bend. But keeping these people engaged is the tricky part, says Branch 498 treasurer Rose Shaddock.

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In addition to hosting performances and karaoke nights, we partner with local schools to help promote our regional branches.

“This gets some young people involved, interested, and more aware that it’s a community, not just history or veterans and veterans’ service,” she said. He added that the branch is also an emergency shelter and a center for the elderly.

But it’s not just the under-30s that Legion is trying to attract. “Every membership counts,” said Patrick.

“You can’t help veterans if your members aren’t involved,” he said, adding that the Delaware chapter raises funds for various organizations and programs for homeless veterans. .

cleon@postmedia.com

twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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