Deficits, apathy threat to Legion

Orillia’s long-running Royal Canadian Legion branch has much in common with veterans’ clubs across the country – an uncertain future in the face of dwindling finances and attendance. The executive is determined to turn the situation around with fresh thinking and a call for greater membership involvement. “There comes a point where you have to say it is time to deal with this,” first vice-president Colin Wackett said. “We cannot afford to carry on this way. Otherwise the roof literally comes crashing down.” The local branch has reported deficits for the past five years, closing out 2008 with a $30,000 shortfall. Declining attendance, a fall in bar sales and rising operating costs are contributing factors. “This is not isolated to Orillia, believe me,” said Wackett. “It is everywhere.” Members are concerned. A recent meeting to discuss the Legion’s future drew record attendance, with more than 250 people turning out for the brainstorming session. Many said programs catering to younger adults were crucial to ensuring the organization’s success, as the number of veterans declines each year. A monthly jam session was suggested as a potential draw, as was the introduction of mid-day programs for those less inclined to visit at night. According to Wackett, this is just the kind of thinking that is crucial to the branch’s success. “The younger generation doesn’t have the same history with the Legion as (elderly veterans) do,” he added. “How do we bring those people in? We do so much in the community that we don’t want to let go. We have got to change the methods of the past.” Orillia’s branch boasts a membership of more than 1,700, but too few regularly visit the building or become involved on a volunteer basis, he said. “If everyone who came to that meeting came into the Legion once a week, we wouldn’t be having that meeting,” Wackett added. “If ever there was a time to step forward, it’s now.” Adding to the Legion’s money problems is the rising cost of maintaining and operating its aging waterfront building. The heating bill rose to $4,200 this winter, up from  $2,200 the previous year. “Sure it was a cold winter, but doubling your heating costs is pretty startling,” he said. “It means you have to raise the extra money to cover it.” The Legion relies largely on fundraising events, as well as fees from the rental of its upstairs hall to operate. While acknowledging the branch’s lakeside building could net a hefty sum – were it sold and the Legion relocated to a smaller facility – Wackett said the idea has been roundly rejected.  “There is a sense of pride and ownership in that spot,” he added of the building, which was bought and paid for by the membership. Wackett was under the impression that the Legion’s Dominion Command would retain some of the proceeds from the building’s sale. As Orillia Today learned, that isn’t accurate. Individual branches reap all proceeds from the sale of their properties so long as they retain their charter, said Bob Butt, spokesperson for the Legion’s Dominion Command. A sale is subject to the approval of provincial command, he added. “They could sell their building, build the new building and they keep that extra (money),” he said in a phone interview, adding that, “If they are not dissolving, they are not losing anything.” Even so, a sale of the historic building appears to hold little appeal for the membership, regardless of their financial woes. “They have a very close attachment to that building, it is a legacy,” said Wackett. “(A proposed sale) would be rejected out of hand. “That is our pride and joy,” he added. “It has the best views of the waterfront in the city.” Whether it makes financial sense to hang on to the building out of nostalgia remains to be seen, given the hurdles facing the club. According to Butt, Orillia is not alone as it works to overcome its challenges. Legions across Canada are struggling with the realities of an aging membership, weak bar sales and falling attendance.  “But we’ve still got 1,540 branches,” Butt added. “Some branches have amalgamated and some branches have closed.” The Orillia Legion’s executive will examine recommendations offered at the recent gathering, and put them to the membership during a general meeting. Along with the recommendations was a commitment from “a lot of people” to volunteer when needed, Wackett said. “Even though a lot of members are aging, it is not physical volunteering we need, it is organizational,” he said. Despite its financial woes, Wackett said the Legion would continue to support local youth programs, including baseball, air cadets and track and field. “We are determined they are going to continue,” he added. Asked whether the Legion would consider partnering with other branches in the region, Wackett said such discussions are traditionally directed by provincial or district command. “If we were approached, we would certainly listen,” he added. “We certainly would not reject any request that way.” Local members intend to meet with other branches to discuss what measures they are taking to address the challenges facing Legions. “It is time for the members to step forward and say, ‘I am willing to help,’” Wackett added of the Orillia situation. “The solution is there. It is a matter of people.” And money.


Save sports fields: Residents

Public input has played a major role in the creation of a report that will determine the future of Orillia secondary schools ODCVI and Park Street Collegiate Institute. That’s the word from Michael Gordon, one of the members of Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) looking into the closure of both local high schools. At public meetings held over the past few months, members of the ARC committee have received input from Orillia residents, with respect to the two educational facilities. “The input from the public was very helpful in the preparation of the final report that has been submitted to the school board,” said Gordon. Among the 11 recommendations made in the report, is a call for the closure of both ODCVI and Park Street high schools, along with renovations and retrofits to Twin Lakes Secondary School. As well, the report calls for the history of the two closed schools be incorporated into the design and construction elements of the new school. A copy of the ARC report has been forwarded to the Simcoe County District School Board, which will discuss it at a June meeting in Midhurst. “The major recommendations that were added after the meetings centered around trying to retain the track and soccer/football fields for recreational use, at whichever space is not used to build the new school,” said Gordon. He noted the recreation space could be used by the school board, or partnerships could be forged with other sports user groups within the city. “That was the main thing we took away from the meetings. People were saying they just don’t want the board to surplus and sell the unused site, because it has the potential to give the city even more outdoor recreational space,” said Gordon. Emphasis was placed on retaining use of the soccer fields and track facilities in place at both ODCVI and Park Street Collegiate. Others suggest converting the Hillcrest Public School site into recreational space, after the school is closed in the future. “That is a whole different option because it will cost a lot of money to take that building down and then do grading on the property and turn it into a usable field. Right now there just isn’t the funding to do that right now as part of the part of the new school funding envelope,” said Gordon. He noted the school board put the Mount Slaven, Hillcrest, David H. Church and Central school properties up for sale two weeks ago. “The input we took from the crowds at the public meetings was that the school board shouldn’t just sell whichever property the school board decides not to use for the new school. They wanted to see if there was some way the board could retain the track and field/soccer portions and then maybe sell the rest,” said Gordon. Gordon noted it would cost an estimated $25 million to build a new secondary school in Orillia to replace ODCVI and Park Street.


Skating carnival on this weekend

Samantha Stewart, Brittany Gill and Hannah Skelton from the Collingwood Skating Club are gearing up for the 2009 Carnival. The carnival – which has a theme of an Afternoon at the Movies – takes place this Sunday at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena. Doors open at 12:15 p.m., with the show starting at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10 with children under five being free. Tickets are available at the door.


Thief makes cop’s job easy

A Midland police officer investigating a theft from a downtown hardware store had an easy time finding the culprit – he was strolling down King Street carrying stolen merchandise. The incident happened around 5 p.m. on March 26. The officer was driving to the scene of the crime when he spotted the thief. A 26-year-old Midland man has been charged with theft under $5,000, possession of stolen property and breach of probation. He was held for a bail hearing in Barrie the following day.


Drama at the Brier

It was circus move worthy of Barnum and Bailey or the Ringling Brothers. With his final rock in the 10th end against Saskatchewan, Coldwater curler Glenn Howard wipped out a two-point deficit and scored three points, en route to a dramatic 7-6 win on Monday evening at the Brier in Calgary. "It’s definitely not a shot you are going to make very often," said Howard, skip of Team Ontario. He readily admitted that if he had 50 chances to repeat that shot in a competition, he might only achieve the same result twice. "I knew it had to be letter perfect and hard enough to knock the Saskatchewan rocks out of the house. Thankfully it worked," said Howard. The shot drew thunderous applause from the thousands in attendance, including Glenn’s older brother Russ, who is skipping the New Brunswick entry at the Brier this week. "Russ seemed impressed. He came over to shake my hand, which was nice of him to do," said Glenn. The victory over Saskatchewan helped the Coldwater and District Curling Club rink maintain an undefeated record at 5-0. Entering play Tuesday, Ontario is tied for first place with the reigning world champions, the Kevin Martin rink from Alberta. Martin and his Edmonton foursome also posted their fifth win of the Brier on Monday evening, narrowly defeating the Brad Gushue rink from Newfoundland-Labrador by a 5-4 score. All evening at the Penngrowth Saddledome, Howard and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill appeared to struggle against the Joel Jordison rink from Saskatchewan, missing numerous opportunities to take control of the game. "We were behind the eight ball most of the game and that was probably the worst game we’ve played all year," admitted Howard, who is appearing in his 11th Brier. Jordison jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second end and led 3-2 after four ends. Single points by Jordison in the fifth and sixth ends respectively provided his rink with a 5-3 lead after the seventh end, before Howard scored one in the eighth to narrow the gap to 5-4. Jordison added one in the ninth to set the stage for the dramatic comeback by Howard and his 2007 world championship rink. Earlier on Monday, Glenn Howard’s rink rolled to a decisive 8-3 win over Prince Edward Island. The win over Saskatchewan marked the second time in three days that the Ontario rink has been forced to come from behind to score a win at the Brier. Saturday, Howard and company needed three points in the 10th end to pull out a victory over the Brad Gushue rink from Newfoundland/Labrador. "We lose those two games and we could easily be 3-2 right now," said Howard. Tuesday morning, all eyes will be on the feature game of the day, when the two Howard brothers go head-to-head in Draw 9 action in Calgary. It marks the first time the two brothers have battled on opposite teams at the Brier. It is also the first time the brothers have competed together since 1993, when they won the Brier and later the world championship.


Local group endorses energy plan

Members of the Simcoe Huronia Association for Renewable Energy (SHARE) are applauding the province for its plan to introduce a Green Energy Act next month. The local group has been promoting renewable energy and energy conservation in the Midland area for three years. “With the provincial government’s support, moving our society away from fossil fuels and toward more sustainable and clean energy sources will happen sooner,” SHARE president Susan Hirst stated in a press release. SHARE is lending its support to an Ontario Sustainable Energy Association campaign to inform Ontarians the province could add 250,000 jobs and generate 31,000 megawatts of energy simply by importing technologies and processes already widespread in Europe. SHARE noted the legislation would provide for priority purchase and access to the grid for all renewable energy projects, and would provide pricing that more equitably reflects technologies such as wind, solar and biogas. “If we continue to invest in technologies that further destabilize our climate, we are going to pay a bigger and bigger price,” said Jose Etcheverry, energy director of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Countries like Germany and Spain are producing enough renewable energy to power all of Ontario, with much less renewable energy resources. They’re way ahead of us, but, with our abundant natural resources, we can catch up very quickly.” SHARE is a non-profit corporation with the mission to promote sustainable energy through education and conservation. For more information, visit sharehuronia.googlepages.com, e-mail [email protected] or call 527-0922.


Petal pushers

Volunteers for the Canadian Cancer Society will be out and about in the coming weeks as they gear up for Daffodil Month. Phyllis Clapp and Donna Burton, co-conveners for the Midland/Penetanguishene fundraiser, have been living, breathing and sometimes even sleeping the campaign for the past few months. Although they agreed it has been a challenge, heading up the campaign for the first time will be worth it in the end. “I think Phyllis has been living it 24 hours a day,” said Burton. “It seems to be our topic of conversation no matter if we are at a card game or bowling. It stays with us.” While money from most cancer-related fundraisers goes to research, proceeds from this campaign will go half toward research and half toward administration, drivers and support groups, noted Burton, who has been a cancer society volunteer for 18 years. “Everything raised here goes to our people,” she emphasized. Last year, the local branch’s volunteer drivers drove 344 clients to cancer-related appointments, covering 275,023 kilometres at a cost of more than $96,000. Clapp, a volunteer for two years, said knowing the money raised stays in the community is what makes this fundraiser so important. “About four years ago, I had to take my husband to Princess Margaret (Hospital in Toronto),” she recalled. “I didn’t know anything about the fact that there were drivers available.” While their reasons for volunteering may be different, both women have found themselves drawn to the cancer society. “Right from the time I was a child … my dad helped with cancer here in Midland,” said Burton. “It was embedded in my being.” “I lost my dad to cancer,” added Clapp. “I wanted to help raise money so that we can help in some way.” Daffodil sales brought in almost $3 million for the Canadian Cancer Society in Ontario in 2008 – with the local campaign raising $23,000. Burton and Clapp are hoping to increase that to $30,000 this year. Volunteers have fanned out in the community taking orders for the flowers. They sell for $7 a bunch or $12 for two bunches, with delivery scheduled for April 3. Daffodil sales will also be taking place in local stores, banks and malls on April 3 and 4. [email protected]


Chamber makes it through a tough year

This past year certainly was the best of times and the worst of times for the Meaford and District Chamber of Commerce. On the best of times side of the ledger, 2008 saw the Chamber continue to remain financially healthy, its total membership continues to exceed 200 and it continued to have a very active, visible and dedicated board of directors and staff involved in multi-faceted projects to improve the business atmosphere in the community. On the worst of times side of the ledger, the Chamber had to experience a severe budget cutback in its contract with the Municipality of Meaford half way through its fiscal year. The cutback resulted in the Chamber reducing its staff complement by one position. The Chamber of Commerce held its annual general meeting at Meaford Hall last Wednesday evening. The evening featured a number of changes for the Chamber of Commerce. Long-time Meaford businessman Geoff Solomon assumed the Presidency of the Chamber’s Board of Directors from President Rod MacAlpine at the meeting. Dairy Queen owner Shirley Keaveney became Vice-President of the Board. In addition, long-time Board of Directors member and Past-President Barb Cooper-Clumpus retired from active duty on the Board of Directors. Solomon said he is looking forward to his term in the President’s chair. "I’m quite excited about the future. I’m looking forward to the future," said Solomon. "We have an amazing Board and I know we can do great things," he said. Cooper-Clumpus said her time with the Chamber has been an incredible journey. She said just over 10 years ago the Chamber was virtually inactive with only 18 members. "I’m very proud to have been part of all of this," she said. "I wish the Chamber every success as it moves forward," she said. The meeting also featured an inspiring presentation from guest speaker Anna Bradford – the Director of Culture with the City of Hamilton. Bradford spoke about the important role culture will play in municipal economic development as Ontario’s municipalities move forward during these times of economic change. Bradford detailed the extensive "cultural mapping" project the City of Hamilton is currently undergoing and she stressed the importance of cultural planning for any community’s future economic growth. Bradford noted that Meaford is well on its way in terms of culture pointing to the presence of Meaford Hall as a huge plus for the community. "This building is just amazing," she said. Outgoing President MacAlpine gave a detailed report about his three years in the President’s chair. "The first two years were a lot of fun," MacAlpine joked, in reference to the budget cutbacks mandated by the municipality in 2008. "The financial picture was not pretty and we knew we had to do our share for cost savings," said MacAlpine. As a result of negotiations with the municipality the Chamber experienced a 27% reduction in the amount it received through its contract for tourism services with the town. MacAlpine said as a result the Chamber needed to reduce its staff total by one position. The timing worked in favour of the Chamber as long-time tourism coordinator Danielle Mulasmajic accepted a position with South Bruce Peninsula. As a result of this change Jamie Petit moved up from his position at the Chamber to become Manager. "Jamie does everything. He’s a great asset to the community. Jamie you have earned a lot of respect and you’ve made us look good," MacAlpine said Wednesday night. MacAlpine said the Chamber received $135,000 from the municipality for 2008, with a $15,000 contingency to recognize that the budget cut occurred half way through the year. "We worked very diligently to stay within that $135,000. At the end of the year we were over by $3,300. We decided not to ask the municipality for that amount," he said. "In the final analysis it’s all about helping our municipal succeed. I believe we have turned a corner in our municipality over the past year," he added. Despite the budget cutback the Chamber of Commerce actually increased its accumulated operating surplus by $7,000 in 2008. The Chamber now has a surplus of $27,692 available for future budgets.


Catholic school board on budget

BARRIE – The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board’s finance team is predicting a balanced budget this year. “We’re on point to achieving all the targets set out for the (2008-09) budget,” said Peter Derochie, associate director of education. Looking to next year’s budget, Derochie said it will be a little tighter. The economy is part of the concern, but enrolment is a bigger worry. According to board projections, elementary enrolment crested in 2004, while high school enrolment targets reached their peak last year. If student numbers continue as predicted, the board will have less money with which to work in 2009-10. The board finance team is projecting annual revenues will fall by $6.4 million. Derochie said the Ministry of Education has indicated funding to help offset these pressures is extremely low. Director of education Michael O’Keefe said that doesn’t mean a deficit for the board. He said the loss in revenues will be counterbalanced by program changes. A budget for the 2009-10 school year is expected to be approved in June. [email protected]


Pavilion will be free for Farmer’s Market

The Meaford Municipal Farmer’s Market will get to use the harbour pavilion free of charge for the upcoming summer. Meaford councillors at their regular meeting on February 23 agreed to waive the pavilion fees for the Farmer’s Market for one more season. Councillors did say that in the future the Market might be asked to pay rental fees to use the pavilion. Farmer’s Market representative Jan Chappelle made a presentation at council’s last Committee of the Whole meeting on February 9. The Farmer’s Market made a successful return to Meaford Harbour two years ago. Chappelle said the market has grown bigger during the two years and is looking forward to its third year. On February 23 Meaford council agreed to honour an earlier verbal agreement to waive pavilion fees for the first three years of the Farmer’s Market. Members of council were concerned that a written agreement for the use of the pavilion does not exist. In addition, some members of council said the Market should expect to pay rental fees in the future. "The vendors must be making a profit. Next year (the Market) will be looking at paying the fee. It’s not an outrageous amount. It’s $100," said councillor Jim McPherson. Several members of council said they remember verbally committing to three years of no rental fees. "I would expect us to honour that. We don’t have those details in writing and that has to change," said councillor Lynda Stephens. Councillor Cynthia Lemon said council made a promise and can’t go back on it now. "You don’t stunt something’s growth in mid-term," said Lemon. Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor said the Farmer’s Market is an important part of summer in Meaford. "It showcases our agri-businesses. It’s a tourist attraction. It has spin offs for our downtown. We know we have something here that is worthy of our support," said Traynor.