Local legion bucks national membership trend

Local legion bucks national membership trend
From left are Royal Canadian Legion Branch 297 membership chair Art Murray and president Ken Heagle.

National trends suggest Royal Canadian Legion membership is droppping like a stone.

In fact, in the last six years, Ontario membership has declined by nearly 15 per cent. In some parts of the province that number is closer to 19 per cent.

Not in Cornwall. While the numbers at Branch 297 are still down, president Ken Heagle sees it more like “holding our own” as opposed to the freefall some branches have experienced.

Cornwall has dropped by about one per cent a year for the last five years.

Membership hovers at about 1,140 at branch 297.

“We're still the largest membership in district G,” said Heagle. District G includes a large swath of eastern Ontario. “We're also the third largest in all of Ontario.”

But the legion is still adapting to the new reality that may branches across the country are grappling with. Aging veterans are dying off, and many of the new vets have yet to join the legion.

In Cornwall, branch 297 recently inducted 26 veterans of the Afghanistan conflict, but the local legion is continuing to diversify to attract new members.

The Royal Canadian Legion has introduced “The Faces of the Legion” - a campaign to promote the fact the legion is more than just a place to have a beer with old military men and women.

“We're still one of thelargest service clubs in the city,” said branch 297 membership chair Art Murray.

Heagle agrees.

“We're military founded, but we're community-oriented now,” he said.

Branch 297 recently wrapped up a $50,000 fundraising campaign for Hospice Cornwall in less than three years - dropping off a cheque for $16,645 to complete the pledge.

Heagle estimates the annual philanthropy is measured with six figures.

“I'd say our donations are in the average of between $75,000 and $100,000 a year - at least,” he said,

For more information about the legion, contact Branch 297 at 613-933-2362, or visit www.legion297.com.

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