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Tofino cheers reopening of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #65

The Tofino Legion was packed both inside and out after being closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
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Smiles surrounded a celebratory ribbon cutting at the Tofino Legion’s grand reopening on Saturday.

Me oh me oh my, wasn’t that a party?

The Tofino Legion was packed both inside and out on Saturday as the community celebrated their beloved community connection hub’s return from a four year hiatus.

The triumphant reopening brought a barbecue, jugglers, balloon twisting, bubble shows and live music to the Legion’s parking lot and an ecstatic standing room only crowd inside the venue to congratulate and thank the volunteers who made the space’s resurrection possible.

The Royal Canadian Legion’s Provincial Chair of BC/Yukon Command Gary Peters served as the event’s MC and drew loud applause as he welcomed the town to the reopening.

Peters was one of the trustees charged with assessing whether the local Legion had enough community support to be viable and his assessment resulted in a resounding, ‘Yes.’”

“I’m happy to say we reported back that this community is a very strong supporter of the Legion movement and will, with the help of the community and the many volunteers that have stepped forward, continue to thrive in this town,” he said.

“When I first came here, there was a lot of mould, the place hadn’t been used in years, it was a little rundown to say the least…They (volunteers) painted it, they cleaned it, they scoured it, they went through the kitchen and did a tremendous job. There are people that just stepped up and said ‘Can I help?’”

He noted the Legion has been closed since the COVID -19 pandemic began in 2020 and bringing back up to snuff was a daunting task that required fresh faces and new blood.

“Since its closure, many of the people who had dedicated their time and their service have moved on. There are a few people who helped keep this branch on life support during that time, running the Poppy Campaign, the Remembrance Day service and paying the bills. I’d like to thank them,” he said, offering specific kudos to the Legion’s Poppy Chair Jessica Harris. “Jess, thank you.”

Peters handed out bouquets to a variety of volunteers who had stepped forward to bring the Legion back, all of whom were met with loud applause.

“The future of this organization relies on the volunteers in this community to keep it going and there’s a lot of them that have dedicated a huge amount of time and effort,” he said.

He gave a special shout out to treasurer Naomi Bruce, who was faced with bringing the Legion’s neglected books up to date.

“Naomi has been instrumental in putting the pieces back together. If you can just imagine trying to rebuild four years of books, it’s a big undertaking. I can attest that, at Provincial Command, we expect a great amount of detail in the financial reporting and, as you know, Naomi has picked up the pieces and put it all back together and now we’re looking pretty good,” he said.

He noted the four year hiatus had cost the Legion its zoning as well as its liquor and business licences and new safety inspections were needed.

“We had to overcome a number of obstacles as you can well imagine when a place is neglected for four years or so,” he said, giving thanks to the town’s council and staff for their support through that process.

He added the Ladies Auxiliary has been a key source of inspiration and support, but is now wrapping up and he thanked them for their 75 years of hard work and community-building.

“They’ve been here for 75 years and, unfortunately, the winds of change have come and the Ladies Auxiliary has reached the end of their journey,” he said, adding very few legion branches in BC continue to enjoy a Ladies Auxiliary. “Their charter will be surrendered to BC/Yukon Command and we’ll bring it back and put it on the wall down there in a place of honour for all that they’ve done.”

Longtime Legion member Whitey Bernard, whose face became famous during the Second World War due to his role as the protagonist in Claude P. Dettloff’s ‘Wait for Me Daddy’ photo in 1940 that has since been the motivation behind statues, stamps and coins, said it was great to see such a large turnout at the reopening.

“Thanks again to all the young people that have come forward and put this place back on track and getting it going again. And, when I say young people, everybody’s bloody younger than I am,” he laughed.

He recalled becoming a bartender at the Legion 62 years ago and the following years spent in various Legion roles since then, including serving as the board’s president and vice-president.

“It’s volunteering. There’s not 10 cents in it. Only personal sacrifice and service to the community,” he said, adding the Legion carries a rich history of community champions and connections.

“It’s endless, the number of people that made this Legion a home for many, a place to come and have fun, a place to be part of the community and be friends. If you came new to the community, you soon learned that if you wanted to raise hell, you went to the Maquinna, if you wanted to have some fun and you wanted to meet the real people of the community, you came to the Legion….That’s what the Legion has been to me in all the years I’ve been here.”

Bernard’s grandson Riley Banks recalled fond memories growing up around the Legion and spoke to the volunteer efforts made to reopen its doors.

“I had the distinct pleasure of growing up in this town and have many fond memories of this very building,” he said, noting he had particularly enjoyed being around for fishing derby events. “It’s been many late nights and many long days, but I’m happy to have everyone in here…Here’s to the future, let’s have a good one.”

A key and very-welcomed commitment to that future came from Charles McDiarmid of the West Coast Sustainable Tourism Association who presented a cheque of $75,000 to go towards replacing the Legion’s roof.

“This is the true meeting place in Tofino, both the old Legion and this Legion, and we stand on the shoulders of the volunteers who have come and served this institution for many, many, many years,” McDiarmid said. “It’s truly the heart and soul of this town.”

He noted the association’s members, largely tourist accommodation operators, have been collecting a 1 per cent voluntary fee from their guests and raised about $300,000 over the past year, $250,000 of which will be donated to local organizations and initiatives. He encouraged others to come forward to donate as well.

“Beyond this donation, which we’re making today, dig deep because there’s a lot of other support that’s needed,” he said.

Peters echoed that sentiment, suggesting needed repairs are plentiful.

“After all these years of neglect, this facility has deteriorated a bit and it’s going to require some major investments to get it back into shape in order for it to be safe and successful in this community,” he said. “We’ve had some major issues and we’re trying to deal with them…If you’d like to help keep the community in the Legion, you can do so by volunteering or making a donation.”

Naomi Bruce, who Peters had earlier heralded for her bookkeeping prowess, told the Westerly News after the ceremony that the WCSTA’s donation was very much welcomed as the building’s roof has been in need of replacement for about a decade, adding that On The Edge Roofing helped the Legion out over the winter patching over 30 holes.

“There were holes you could put your arm through. It’s far overdue, there’s no way we could have made it over another winter. There’s so much to do and having that support to get the roof done is really a big step and I’m so grateful,” she said.

Bruce said she joined the Legion and dug deep into getting its books, licences and zoning back on track because she didn’t want to see the facility lost.

“I heard that if nobody stepped up for the Legion that they were going to close the building. I had never been a Legion member, I’d never been involved, but I live in this community and suddenly had so many flashbacks to events at the Legion, being together with multi-generational crowds, children always running around laughing, steak nights and pancake breakfasts and just being in the community with affordable food and a mix of the community all gathering together,” she said. “Tofino is an expensive place to live and it often can be quite isolating. We really need the Legion, which brings us together as a community.”

She also gave a shout out to the outgoing Ladies Auxiliary, whom she credited with inspiring her passion for the Legion bringing the community together through food.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever have that in the kitchen again. They were amazing, but we’re going to do our best to do them some justice and continue to bring the community together in this space,” she said.

She added that she was thrilled to see the large turnout at the event.

“It’s been a lot of work…I feel like, with this grand opening, we’re at a point where we’ve really got some momentum,” she said. “I’ve been volunteering for over a year now because I wanted to see our community gather together in this space, share food and feel connected. I’m so pleased with the turnout today because that dream was realized and I hope to see more events like this where we can all come together in the Legion.”

She said the Legion’s board has struck a variety of volunteer committees and anyone interested in helping out is encouraged to introduce themselves at a Thursday Pool Night, which includes billiards as well as foosball, at 331 Main Street, or reach out to her at admin@tofinolegion.ca.

“We’re looking for volunteers of all types. Whatever skill you have and want to share, it takes a lot to run this large space,” she said.

Mid Island - Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne attended the reopening event and told the Westerly the Legion plays a vital role in “the social fabric of any town.”

“There’s nothing more important than having community spaces for people to gather to celebrate, but also to honour people who have passed and come together to just be a community in times of need. I’m so thrilled to see the Legion up and running again. I’ve missed it a lot. I’ve spent a lot of really good times here,” she said.

“People come to Tofino and they might not always realize the depth of history and social connections in this town. Listening to Whitey Bernard talk about the decades and decades of involvement that he’s had I think just speaks so much to what the history of this town means and why it’s important to continually remember that and the people who may not be with us anymore, but they were so integral to this place.”

She added Tofino continues to be blessed with a solid and sustained volunteer spirit.

“Volunteerism is well and alive in Tofino,” she said. “Tofino is a small town with a huge heart and despite the fact that people do come and go, there are always people who are willing to put their time in to make this a better place.”

Following the ceremony and family fun, the reopening celebration then turned into an evening event packed with live music beginning at 8 p.m., reaching its capacity in short order and highlighting just how excited the community was to fill the venue once again.

 



Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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