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'Come and relax': Younger people joining this B.C. legion more than ever

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 176 is a place for young and old to gather and support each other.

On an early Saturday morning the week before Remembrance Day, a local B.C. legion is bustling with young cadets making poppies. 

Tucked off a side street near Kitsilano Beach is the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 176. The building has withstood the test of time, after being built in the 1930s. 

James 'Jim' Dadd, president of the Billy Bishop/Kerrisdale branch, wears many hats to make sure members are taken care of ever since it became the legion in 1960.

“This is a place that they can come and relax and have discussions with other people,” he says. 

From making sure the building is maintained, to the operations and dinners running smoothly, he’s a staple at the legion. 

“On Saturday, I come and help out with dinner and then I go up and tell some terribly awful jokes prior to dinner,” he tells Glacier Media. 

If you ask him for a joke, he has many on hand ready.

But what exactly has been the driving force behind his 30-plus-year membership?

"I guess it's seeing everybody enjoying themselves. Having a good time. And we want to make sure that everybody is well,” says Dadd. 

The British-style pub sits below sea level, giving a dark and cosy ambience. Inside, the intimate tables bring people close together as they’re surrounded by plaques from all over the world. 

"Those are all either regimental plaques, or ship plaques, or squadron plaques from different areas of Canada, [the] Allies and everywhere else,” he says. 

Over the years, visitors have taken note of the collection and donated their plaques.

"So finally, it's been built up to this,” he says. "There's been a lot of donations and so many in fact that they're not all... on display. There's a storage room where there's more.”

In the centre of the room above the fireplace is a portrait of Billy Bishop himself, Canada’s flying ace of the First World War. 

“The family of Billy Bishop gave the legion approval to use his name,” says Dadd. 

Around the facility, volunteers are busy caring for the garden and grounds in anticipation of today (Nov. 11).

And if you look closely, a small path that winds in front of the legion is made up of memorial bricks. They're for remembering those who never made it home from the war and those whose lives were changed by the war.

What kind of support does the legion offer?

As Dadd prepares for this year’s Remembrance Day, he thinks of his father. 

"My father didn't die in the war, but he died because of the war. He did serve in the Royal Navy for 22 years during the war.”

Remembrance Day is not the only day the members, their families and the community remembers those lost. At this legion, and many others, support is provided year-round.

Dadd explains how the pub and legion are not just a place for people to gather, but also to relax, have discussions with others and provide assistance to veterans and their families. 

“Whether it be housing, whether it be medical, whether it be that there are resources available within the legion and the poppy fund and Veterans Affairs that can help them,” he says. “It’s a place for people to be introduced and to know what the legion stands for and what it can do for these people.”

Once inside the pub, Dadd explains how there’s one person who seems to know everything that is going on. 

“We have a bartender, she's a member and she's been here forever. A long time. And you know, everybody knows her. They're very, very congenial. And so if there is any issue, she will know about it,” he says. 

Coming back home after serving can be very difficult for members, especially when they’re not with their troop or the people they served with.

“The veterans in the First World War, Second World War, a lot of them went overseas as a unit,” explains Dadd. "So they were all together as a group. Whereas now, they come from all different places across Canada.”

When they come home and come to the legion, they’re surrounded by other members who understand what they've been through. 

“The camaraderie is there because they are, you know, they have been members of the service.”  

Dadd says veterans can be anyone who wore a uniform, not just those who served in the war. He tells Glacier Media the legion welcomes everyone. 

COVID-19 pandemic slowed down memberships

Membership at Branch 176 is now higher than it was in 2019. (It costs $65 per year.)

According to Dadd, the pandemic was hard on their membership and many people could not gather together in person.

Their pub needed to be shut down due to the pandemic regulations as it was considered a bar; he says they tried to come up with a solution to serve food instead so people could still support each other and spend time together.

“That was our goal... to try and keep the place open as much as we could for the people that come in.” 

They also renovated the legion to have better ventilation. 

Today, the menu is gone but they still serve dinner on Saturdays with entertainment. 

"A lot of people now, especially younger people, are joining because it is a place they can come with their friends,” says Dadd. 

This legion also alleges it has some of the cheapest beer in Vancouver.

"It's about $1.50 cheaper than you can get it anywhere else. And that price is all tax in," he says. 

There are more than 450 members currently and Dadd says it’s a blend of veterans and young people.

“We really value the fact that you want to come in and join and we've got a lot of stuff in here that you could maybe learn about and like Billy Bishop.” 

brickslegion
Royal Canadian Legion Branch 176 memorial bricks. Alanna Kelly

 

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