Peace causing thinning of ranks
Today's Legion isn't what it used to be

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 09/97) - One of the seven traditional Canadian navy toasts calls for a bloody war or a sickly season.

Handed down from Britain's Royal Navy, the old toast originated with hopes that officers or sailors would be killed in battle or die of disease so promotions in rank would come quicker in the fleet.

But it's been a long time since Canadians fought in the Second World War.

So that means not only have promotions been slower, it also means there are fewer and fewer veterans half a century later. Which means the ranks of the Royal Canadian Legion across the country are thinning drastically.

Yellowknife is no exception. There are few veterans left in Vincent Massey Branch 64.

"Naturally, the Legion is fighting this problem," branch president Richard MacDonald said.

People who never served in the military -- like MacDonald -- can join the Legion, yet membership continues to slide.

On the weekend, District 7 of the Legion's Alberta-NWT Command met in the city, with officials travelling from Alberta and delegates coming from Hay River, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Inuvik.

MacDonald says one of the resolutions passed was the possibility of chopping the convoluted membership category system to two, with status as either a member or associate.

It would have to be approved nationally, but it would result in more members who could vote and, according to MacDonald, something even more important: "It would allow members to run for office who couldn't run before."

MacDonald outlined how some people are the lifeblood of various Legions, volunteering for all sorts of work and events, but they cannot vote or run for the branch executive.

This discourages some people from staying in or joining branches across Canada.

Today, Yellowknife's Vincent Massey Branch touts itself as a club as opposed to a bar, so in addition to safety and friendship there are lots of activities, such as darts, cribbage, pool and an associated bowling league.

Branch 64, with a membership of 500 -- and a light turnout of people -- is a big supporter of charities.

"There is a problem we are fighting now, how to get the membership into the branch more often," MacDonald says.