This year’s Remembrance Day will be a particularly sombre occasion for members of the Royal Canadian Legion Andrew Mynarski VC Branch 34.
In addition to acknowledging the loss of fallen comrades, Legion members will be mourning the impending closure of the Main Street branch. It is scheduled to close its doors at the end of this year after more than six decades of service.
It’s a sad time for Stefan Olbrecht, the branch’s current president and a Second World War veteran, who served with the Polish Carpathian Lancers during the conflict. He’s been a member since the early 1950s, and since 1988 has served on the executive of both the Legion and the Polish Combatants Association No. 13, which owns the building at 1364 Main St where both are located.
The Mynarski branch, like others, is suffering as a result of declining membership. Once 400 strong in the years following the Second World War, membership has dwindled to a mere 30, most of whom no longer attend meetings.
"Out of the 30, about six are young persons whose parents keep the membership, but they do not attend the meetings," Olbrecht said.
"At one time, there were only two present."
On top of that, the branch’s current executive can’t keep running things for much longer. At 85, Olbrecht is the youngest member, and there seem to be no newcomers coming up to replace them, so they decided to liquidate the branch and close it up for good.
"I feel very sad, because just like I aged, everybody else aged," Olbrecht said of the decision to close.
"We have members past 90, very close to 100… We’re too old to join other branches."
He did say, however, they’ve encouraged their remaining members to join the branches closest to their homes.
As for the PCA, president Dorota Praski said their membership is still doing quite well since, unlike the Legion, its membership is not restricted to veterans. The PCA has a membership of about 130 people these days, and it has 60 students from ages five to 16 participating in its dance school. While they are selling the building on Main St., she says the PCA won’t be going anywhere just yet. They plan to lease some space in the building after it’s sold to make use of its dance studio, and will remain there for a while before moving on to a new location.
"We’re going to keep that for the school of dance for the time being, and then we’ll be looking at supporting some of the other Polish organizations with their spaces," Praski said.
The branch’s origins date back to shortly after the post-First World War RCL Polish Branch No. 210. When veterans from the Second World War returned home, they formed a Legion branch as well, but merged with 210, becoming the Branch No. 34 which exists today. They adopted the Andrew Mynarski VC name in the early 1950s in honour of the North End war hero and Victoria Cross recipient who perished during the Second World War attempting to save his fellow airmen as their Lancaster bomber went down.
Honouring Mynarski’s legacy has been an ongoing effort for the branch, and what it has accomplished in that respect is a source of pride for Olbrecht. The branch supported the construction of Andrew Mynarski VC School, and offered three scholarships to students each year in his name. Olbrecht, upon becoming president, attended the school’s Remembrance Day service each year (the branch itself doesn’t hold one). The Legion also had a cairn erected in Mynarski’s honour at Kildonan Park.
Air Cadet Squadron 573 also took the Andrew Mynarski VC name, and the branch offered its support to the squadron’s functions as well. Branch members have also supported ongoing efforts to have a statue erected in Mynarski’s honour.