Legacy clubs in the County are struggling to find their way in 2018
For most people, connecting with the modern advances of today’s world is second nature. Technology is advancing at hyper speeds. Artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles will inevitably end up in our lives and we will, as a human race, evolve our way of thinking. The same thing happened 20 years ago with a device called the cellular telephone. So, in a time where connecting is something that people don’t do face-to-face anymore, how do community clubs like the Legion and the local Elks lodge keep relevant? Although the answer is not clear, one thing is for sure: Adapting and offering new ways to connect and serve your community needs to come forward, and fast.
For the past four years, Kelly Reid and her husband Jim have been working and donating their time at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 160 in Wellington. For Reid, the building could be considered part of her DNA.
“I grew up coming here. My grandmother played cards at this Legion her whole life. My mother’s wedding reception was here. It has a lot of great memories for me. This place was once the community hub of Wellington. It was a busy, happening place with dances on the weekends and dinners for the family,” says Reid.
But times now are quite different, and membership at the Legion has been in a steady decline over the years. Currently, there are 176 members at the Legion, but Reid says that she only sees about 20 per cent of those people on a regular basis. Age and mobility are key issues in getting the members out and active. It is an issue facing many different facets of our community. An aging demographic that is getting too old to frequent the establishments that they used to. For those places, it’s either change with the times, or death by a thousand paper cuts. For Reid and the Legion, it’s not that dire—but it does require a change of perception.
“We are hoping to get some community awareness that you don’t have to be a Legion member to come in. We are here as your local sports pub or just a place to hang out and play pool.”
Reid and her husband have also been making efforts to change up the routine at the Legion.
The bar decided to open on Sundays in the winter, and to add to the draw there is a complimentary pot of soup made fresh each Sunday for patrons. The choice has been a good one, with business at the bar being busier than expected so far. The couple have also added two large flat screens, usually with sports playing, and a record player with a crate full of vinyl to choose from. Something that may draw in the hipsters if they catch wind.
Another issue hitting the Legion hard is one that is running rampant in our community already. The issue of volunteers. The Legion currently only has two paid employees, who are the bartenders. The rest is all volunteer-based and, like other entities in the County, the volunteers at the Legion have slowly started dwindling off, making events like the weekly community dinner more difficult to execute. The dinner’s have stopped in the slow seasons, and it’s turned into Grub in the Pub, and not a sit-down meal. With no new members coming in and putting their hand up to help, the future of the weekly dinners is in jeopardy.
For the local Wellington Elks Lodge 566, the song of memberships and volunteers is, unfortunately, the same. The Elks started their meetings at the Wellington Legion Hall in the late ’70s and stayed there until they purchased the building in Allisonville. The Store- House Foodbank, Reaching for Rainbows, and raising money for children in need are all local causes that the Elks donate time and resources towards. Elks membership currently sits at 35 members, but it’s not the number that member Ron Hough is concerned about.
“For new members, we don’t need quantity, we need quality. It’s important to have healthy, active people to keep the community initiatives we have going. A lot of our members are in our 70s, and it is increasingly difficult for us participate at the level we could 10 years ago,” says Hough.
For the Legion and Elks, the key will be engaging the young families, couples and retirees in the community and finding out what they all need. What service can the Legion provide the Wellington of 2018? How can the Elks be of service in the day of E-transfers? In their heyday, both clubs were spots that people could come to for support when they needed it. But there was another level. Both clubs brought positivity, levity, laughter and love to the community. They both hosted epic dinner dances that the whole County would be buzzing about back in the day. The dinners have lasted through the generations, but those dinners are now admittedly lacking in energy and support.
To have a good time and not think about the outside world is something that any generation can connect to. The world still needs places like these, and with a little ingenuity they can make a comeback. But one thing is for sure, if no volunteers step forward to help these clubs in making the transition into today’s world, the buildings will eventually be sold, and, the stories and history of the occupants will disappear.