INNISFAIL – The Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion is again open for business but is putting out an immediate call for volunteers as the pandemic has caused a “dramatic” decline in numbers.
“It has been dramatic due to COVID. It has been a steady decline over the years – period,” said Chris Pickard, the Innisfail legion branch manager, adding if any citizen is interested in volunteering at the legion, he or she is invited to come to the legion and talk to members.
“As far as the COVID thing goes, it definitely slowed things down a great deal for us, especially for a lot of our volunteers who do tend to be seniors. They were quite frankly worried.”
Pickard emphasized the pandemic could have an impact with future bingo games, which have not been held at the legion since September of last year.
“With the whole COVID thing a lot of the volunteers that were involved dropped out altogether,” said Pickard, adding legions officials are talking about starting bingos again in September.
“The catch of course is that we just need to find enough volunteers who will help.”
The provincial government’s relaxation of COVID restrictions earlier this month allowed the Innisfail legion to reopen June 11 after being locked down the previous two months.
The Innisfail legion is the third largest in Canada in terms of membership, which now sits at about 1,300.
Pickard said during the pandemic the institution was open “off and on” while restrictions kept changing, including the one for the last lengthy shutdown.
While these shutdowns had a significant adverse impact, he said the legion is still doing “OK” financially.
“We will be OK. Obviously, we suffered a lot but we are one of the luckier legions out there because we are larger, always open and doing lots of things,” said Pickard.
“The money flow is a little better than some of the smaller legions in the area where they are only open a couple days of the week. They didn’t have a lot to begin with.”
What is most important, however, is that the town’s longstanding loyal legion members are pleased to have the doors of the venerable institution finally open after the most recent shutdown.
“So many people have been locked up for pretty much of the last year or so and with nothing to do. People are bored and they want to get back out socializing and be a part of everything,” he said.
“There has been a lot of excitement. All the members have been calling the last two months asking which date we are going to open.
“It’s one of those things where we’re finally able to now, and hopefully we will now stay open, with fingers crossed, right?”
However, there will still be certain COVID safety guidelines members and guests will have to follow until Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan, which is expected late June or early July.
He said face masking and social distancing is still expected unless sitting at the table eating or drinking.
As for capacity, the current limit in the Club Room’s area is one third of the maximum limit of 590 patrons, which he noted was “extremely high.”
As for the auditorium, he said there are some bookings but not many as traditional large scale gathering events such as weddings and funerals were not being held or even planned due to the strict provincial COVID restrictions.
“It is going to change right quick I believe,” he said.
With the number of COVID cases dropping dramatically, and with the provincial government’s vaccination campaign in high gear, the legion is encouraging all community citizens to take advantage of the fine seasonal weather and head to the legion.
Pickard noted legion rules have changed over the years and a citizen does not have to be a member to enjoy the amenities.
“A lot of people feel that if you are not a legion member they can’t come down for a drink or check out everything. That’s not true at all,” he said. “They have to sign in but beyond that anyone can come down, have a drink, visit and see what they think.”