While declining memberships have forced some Royal Canadian Legion branches to close their doors in recent year, Domain and Sanford appear to be bucking that trend.
The two rural branches have managed to hold their own as more and more Second World War veterans pass away. In fact, both continue to play an important role in community life by assisting students in obtaining post-secondary educations and helping area seniors and military families.
"Our goal is to help our youth and seniors whenever and wherever possible," said Sanford Legion No. 171 president Ray Kasur.
The Sanford branch and Domain Legion No. 208 were formed by local veterans shortly after the Second World War ended. Ladies auxiliaries were formed soon afterwards.
"Some of the names on the founding document are some of the family names from this area," said Denis Litster, past president of the Domain branch.
The picture wasn’t always so rosy in Sanford. Five years ago membership in the branch had fallen to just 15 people. "And now we’re up to 55," Kasur said proudly.
An influx of retirees to Sanford from Winnipeg and other communities has helped boost the branch’s numbers. It has also helped boost the number of female members at the branch. Joyce Kasur said the ladies auxiliary’s membership has grown to 22.
Anyone who is a Canadian citizen and 18 years of age or older is eligible to become a Legion member. Unlike in the past, new members no longer have to be related to a war veteran.
Domain’s numbers are lower, with about 15 of the 26 members being active. They have been so active, in fact, they held a two-day fundraising event in the local hall a few years ago and raised more than $15,000 to donate to the Canadian Military Families Fund. Litster said branch members now send donations to the provincial branch of the organization created to provide support for military families.
Litster and the other Domain members know how to get things done. Three years ago, they wanted to honour Sid Manness, the community’s sole remaining Second World War veteran, who had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. With the help of 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manness was recognized during that year’s Remembrance Day ceremony with a fly-by. Litster said there weren’t many dry eyes as the jet flew overhead.
"That aircraft was really just for one person," he said.
Despite having a population of about 70 residents, attendance at Domain’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony has steadily climbed to more than 300 visitors during the past decade.
Litster said many of La Salle’s new residents, a few of whom are in the military, are coming to Domain rather than driving into Winnipeg to attend one of the city’s larger ceremonies.
Having local school students and members of the La Salle scouts and guides troops participate in the Remembrance Day service has also helped increase attendance.
"We couldn’t do all that we do if we didn’t have the school and everyone involved," Litster said.
Sanford branch members have also worked hard to maintain their place in the community. The Legion hall is used as a drop-in site weekday mornings and is the location for bimonthly seniors’ activities. It is also available to rent for community and family functions.
The branch’s main annual fundraisers are a May pig roast and the sale of Grey Cup pool tickets. Money raised from the two fundraisers is used to fund two $500 scholarships awarded to Sanford Collegiate graduates entering university, to provide financial assistance for a local student attending the Peace Gardens’ Legion Camp, and as prizes for elementary school students entering an annual Remembrance Day poster competition.
Kasur said the branch was awarded nearly $31,000 in funding through a federal New Horizons for Seniors grant. Thanks to volunteer labour by Legion and community members and careful budgeting, the members were able to completely renovate the Legion hall’s kitchen, buy new appliances, flooring and carpeting, install energy-efficient windows and doors and air conditioning and repaint the inside and outside, as well as correct drainage problems outside the building.
The Domain branch’s Remembrance Day ceremony will be held Sun., Nov. 11 beginning at 10:30 a.m. It will begin with an outdoor ceremony at the cenotaph before moving indoors for a short service.
The Sanford branch’s Remembrance Day ceremony will begin at 10:45 a.m. in the Sanford United Church, followed by a service at the cenotaph.