The roots for Kerrisdale Legion Branch 30 were planted in 1919, when a group of soldiers gathered to form a veteran’s association in the village.
In 1920, they received their charter from the Dominion Association of Veterans, and in 1923 moved into a building donated to the group by the Municipality of Point Grey. In 1987, that building was torn down and the association, now the Kerrisdale Legion, moved next door. That was until this past April, when Branch 30 shuttered its doors and closed its Kerrisdale location for good.
Sid Harrison, president of Branch #30, describes the closure as bittersweet.
“It’s a bit sad in a way,” he told the Courier. “We tried our best to hold it together, but Branch 30 no longer exists. It’s a fait accompli.”
Harrison says with membership numbers dropping and the cost of rent increasing, it didn’t make sense financially to continue running the legion in the tony neighbourhood, where real estate prices have sky rocketed in recent years.
The good news is that, while the space is closed, Branch 30 and its members have partnered with Billy Bishop Legion Branch 176 for what everyone hopes will be a mutually beneficial relationship. But there’s a big difference between walking down to the local for a pint and navigating the 15-minute drive to a legion in another neighbourhood. Harrison said whether the 120 members of Branch 30 will physically frequent the Billy remains to be seen.
“Maybe some members will sign up to be part of it, but only time will tell,” says Harrison, a “proud legion member for 40 years.”
“We just have to give it some time.”
Meanwhile Billy Bishop president Debbie Hretchka and vice president Mario Dionne are excited about the partnership and anxious to welcome all members from Branch 30 to the legion, located in a quirky, vintage building on Laburnum Street on Kits Point. Because the executive committee of Branch 30 also transferred over, the newly formed Billy Bishop/Kerrisdale Legion has duplicate directors and officers, including two presidents, two vice-presidents and two treasurers. An election in September, will determine who holds those seats going forward.
“We had the charter done by the end of April, but it was too soon to hold an election,” says Hretchka. “We’ll get that worked out in September.”
Dionne hopes the new members will enjoy the Billy for its uniqueness.
“It’s not a big open lounge with tables like most legions,” says Dionne. “It’s more like a British pub.”
One thing both legions have in common is their struggle to remain relevant and financially solvent so everyone involved hopes the new partnership will relieve some of that burden. The Billy has long struggled with high property tax bills and today pays about $20,000 a year.
Thanks to a break from the City of Vancouver, that’s 40 per cent of actual property tax.
Hretchka says the Billy has been doing a lot to draw customers of all ages by organizing meat draws, ping pong nights, dinners — including the roast beef special on Fridays, summer barbecues on the patio and open mic nights. About 90 per cent of the proceeds from all legion-organized events go to charity. Hretchka hopes new members transitioning from Kerrisdale will join in the fun.
“They had karaoke Saturday nights and a dart team that will move over here,” says Hretchka. “There have been a lot of ups and downs, but things are going well now.”
While initially a member had to belong to the armed forces or have a family connection to join a legion, that’s changed and today anyone can apply. Visit billybishoplegion.org for more information.