Royal Canadian Legion Britannia Branch 7 president and office manager Keith Yow and his wife Irene Harrison, who serves the branch as recording secretary and looks after publicity, spend a lot of time at the thriving Summit Avenue club. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Brittannia Legion in Victoria bucking the national trend

Branch celebrates 100th anniversary with no debt, younger than average membership

Even after 100 years, change is inevitable.

The folks overseeing operations of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Britannia Branch No. 7 in Victoria, which recently celebrated its centennial, are managing that change well, at a time when membership is diminishing at other branches and their futures lay in jeopardy.

Keith Yow, in his fourth term as president of the branch and also its volunteer office manager alongside Maxine Hanson, says the executive – made up largely of couples – takes a businesslike approach to operations. To continue the branch’s charitable work in the community, they’ve realized they need to grow the membership base and that has meant going younger, while respecting the older members.

Offering a venue and a welcoming social atmosphere to such recreational groups as Darts Victoria and the Victoria 8-Ball League – and community service opportunities – has prompted many players to join the Legion.

“You have to market it properly, bring in the younger people to keep it going,” Yow says. “As opposed to some Legions where the mean average [age] is about 63 and a half, we’re starting to attract [new members].”

Addressing its dwindling numbers, the Royal Canadian Legion recently opened up its membership to the public – no connection to veterans or the military is required. Now branches can market themselves to prospective members like any other social or service club.

Yow’s wife, Irene Harrison, who serves as the branch’s recording secretary and heads up the public relations and events committees, points out that Britannia’s motto is “the friendly branch.”

“And he’s one president who, if he sees someone walk in the door who he’s never seen before, he always goes over and shakes their hand and welcomes them, and that goes a long way,” she says.

Financially, the branch has no debt and owns a valuable chunk of land the club sits on at Summit Avenue and Nanaimo Street, as well as adjacent property. It rents clubhouse space to current and past members of the RCMP ‘E’ Division and occasionally offers musical acts a venue to stage a dance or concert.

Keeping close financial watch on things is Yow’s forte, says Harrison. “He has a good business mind and knows how to market it.”

Not only did he take on the office manager job so the branch wouldn’t have to pay someone, Yow and first vice-president Dave Neilson are adept at applying for the multitude of grants that are available. They helped Britannia save thousands on a new oven and stove for the kitchen, as well as a cooler and a glass washer for the lounge.

Evelyn Elliott, who lives in Metchosin but plays darts out of the Britannia branch, says she wanted to support the branch and its members and so took out a membership with her son.

“I wanted to support them and I like the branch,” she says. “The members are friendly; as soon as we walked in the door, a [different] gentleman said ‘hello and welcome.’ I liked that.”

With five teams playing darts out of this Legion and eight or more people on a team, that’s upwards of 50 prospective members. Like Elliott, a number of the dart players have signed up.

Yow admittedly wasn’t enthusiastic about making a big deal of celebrating the branch’s centennial, but says past-president Ken Holding headed up the committee and carried it off well.

The event, held 100 years to the day the organization was established as the Great War Veterans Association Victoria Branch, gave a good reminder that this Legion is worth saving.

“It’s a vision and a legacy of what’s supposed to go on,” Yow says. “For the first 100 years, it was nice once you thought about it. But to go forward for the second 100 years and be here, people have to change, and that’s what we’re doing.”

To learn more about Britannia Legion No. 7 and its activities, visit britannia7legion.com.

editor@vicnews.com

Royal Canadian Legion

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Certificate shows the origins of the Royal Canadian Legion Brittannia Branch 7 in Victoria, which began life in 1917 as part of the Great War Veterans Association. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

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