Okotoks Legion members are hoping to find a new home downtown.
Bob McLeod, president of the Okotoks Legion Branch 291, said the club will submit a proposal to lease 8 McRae Street, a property purchased by the Town in the spring. The Town of Okotoks intends to lease it out for three to five years until it determines a long-term use for the site.
McLeod said the timeframe would be long enough to allow the Legion to raise money for a down payment on a permanent home.
“We really need a place for our membership to call their own, where in fact we can have events or we can look after veterans, and we can provide space not only for our membership but for groups in the town that need space,” said McLeod.
The Legion currently meets at the Elks Hall in Okotoks. McLeod said it has allowed the Legion to get itself established, but rental expenses exceed what the Legion can afford to pay on a regular basis.
“We wouldn’t have a Legion in Okotoks were it not for the Elks,” he said.
Membership numbers are currently around 175, though there were more than 180 to begin with, he said. A Legion hall could make a big difference in the growth of the organization, he said.
“We feel very strongly that if we had our own spot, especially in a place like downtown, then our membership would grow and our support would grow,” said McLeod.
He said volunteers from the membership would be able to keep the building open and maintained, so the Legion wouldn’t have to hire anyone to manage the facility. In addition, he said many trade-certified members have already offered to help with any work to be done to the interior and with ongoing maintenance.
When the Town had the building inspected over the summer mold was found in the flooring, but otherwise McLeod said the facility has been cared for and wouldn’t need much work.
It includes a kitchen or bar area on one side, six offices in the back, a basement area for storage, and a large space for meetings and other functions, as well as rooms that could be set aside for veterans. It also has reduced-mobility access at the front, which is very important, he said.
McLeod said it would be beneficial for everyone, not just the Legion members, if the group was to set up house at 8 McRae Street.
“I think we could provide a lot to the Town by having the building down there open,” he said. “The walking traffic is going to increase and the number of people who would come downtown, too.”
Malcolm Hughes, chairman of the Okotoks Legion, said having a space for their membership to feel at home would bring a number of benefits to the organization and the Town.
For starters, the Okotoks Legion would be able to host events like darts tournaments on a provincial or national level, bringing Legion members from across the country to the area, he said. It’s something they tried to pull off at the Elks Hall, but the tournaments are not revenue-generating for the Legion, so the cost of running the event was prohibitive.
“We don’t do it to make money, we do it to get people together from the whole area,” said Hughes. “There’s all those possibilities we now can’t even think about that would be possible and would certainly highlight Okotoks on a provincial and national level.”
There is also a feeling among the membership that there isn’t a true Legion to support in Okotoks without a place to call their own to support veterans and socialize, he said.
“That’s a big part of it for Legion members, especially the older ones,” said Hughes.
Younger veterans are looking for a place to gather and share their experiences, he said. Whether they are physically, emotionally or mentally wounded, they need to feel as though they have a place to go, he said. Ideally, there would be a veteran’s room in the Legion space where someone could go and not be bothered, if that’s what he or she wanted, he said. It’s one of the reason younger veterans have given for their lack of support, he said.
“We’re hearing more and more, I think, of the need for secure, comfortable and supportive places,” said Hughes. “I think with a Legion crest on a building it means a lot more than going somewhere where we’ve been welcomed, but it isn’t ours.”
He said the location at 8 McRae Street would be ideal because of its proximity to Veterans Way, the memorial wall and the cenotaph at Frederick Pryce Memorial Park.
The Town is now accepting expressions of interest to lease 8 McRae Street, and all proposals are to be submitted by Nov. 8.