INNISFAIL – A vital local veteran institution continues to recover from the devastating trials of the COVID-19 pandemic and they’ve gone to a past trusted hand to help right the ship back to normal.
The Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 has re-hired past manager Don Harrison to step in on an interim base to replace the recently departed Chris Pickard who served as manager since 2019.
“Right now, it’s for three months. We'll be reevaluating in December for an extension or a different path. We don't know yet,” said Harrison, who’s also the legion’s entertainment chair largely responsible for bringing in the recent successful CanAm Wrestling shows.
“But I think three months will give both myself and the organization a chance to assess each other and assess where we're headed,” added Harrison. “Three months is a good timeframe.”
Harrison was previously hired to be full-time manager at the legion in the spring of 2017 but that fall he went part-time. Pickard was later hired to a full-time role and Harrison ultimately pursued politics and now sits on town council.
“Don is stepping in to help us out. He has brought some structure back into our organization that we were lacking,” said Stephen Black, president of the Innisfail legion. “It's a matter of being organized and figuring out ways to get people back in the building and Don has some great ideas.”
“We've kind of left it as a three or four-month term, and then myself and the table officers and Don will sit down and see if this is for him to continue doing. We're not actively seeking another manager.”
He said Harrison’s current experience as a town councillor, and as past legion manager and senior level provincial government official, comes at the right time to help the institution recover from the trials of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our hands full trying to come out of COVID and get the legion back up to where it was before because it (COVID) hurt our business a lot,” said Black, adding the institution is back to its normal full six days a week operation from the shut downs caused by provincial restrictions during the height of the pandemic.
With the restrictions now lifted, the legion’s priority is getting hundreds of legion members back into building again.
“Memberships took a huge hit because no one was coming down,” he said of COVID’s impact to the local legion.
Before the pandemic the Innisfail legion had the third largest membership of all legions in the country.
“We were around anywhere from 1,800 to 2,000 members. I would suspect we lost about 500 and we're just trying to get those back,” said Black. “Most of them still want to be members but they got used to being at home for two and a half years. Some people are still not keen on going out.
“But we are back open every day, just closed Sundays,” he added. “We’re doing entertainment at least once a month, and Don is continuing to book wrestling and that’s been going very well.”