Legion in financial trouble

Orillia’s chronically cash-strapped Royal Canadian Legion branch requires fresh thinking and greater membership involvement to survive, says a member of its executive. “There comes a point where you have to say it is time to deal with this,” said first vice-president Colin Wackett. “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, he said. Declining attendance, a fall in bar sales and rising operating costs are contributing to the annual deficits. “This is not isolated to Orillia, believe me,” said Wackett. “It is everywhere.” A meeting held Sunday to discuss the Legion’s future drew record attendance, with more than 250 members 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. “The younger generation doesn’t have the same history with the Legion as (elderly veterans) do,” Wackett 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.” The Legion 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, for example, 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.” A portion of members’ annual fees goes to the local branch, and the provincial and Dominion commands take the remainder. The Legion relies largely on fundraising events, as well as fees from the rental of its upstairs hall, to operate. 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. While acknowledging the 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. A potential sale would require the approval of the Legion’s Dominion Command, which would retain any funds not used to construct a new building, he said. “It is not really a viable option for us,” he said. The Legion’s executive will examine the recommendations offered Sunday, which will be put to the membership for a decision during a general meeting. Along with the recommendations was a commitment from “a lot of people” to volunteer when needed, he said. “Even though a lot of members are aging, it is not physical volunteering we need, it is organizational,” he said. 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 financial hurdles 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.” A memorial patio underway on the waterfront side of the building will allow members and guests to enjoy a drink outdoors in warmer weather, and, in one designated area, a cigarette. “It’s not going to hurt,” he said.


Two suspected dead in house fire

There are two possible fatalities in a house fire in the northwest reaches of Adjala-Tosorontio that firefighters are battling at this hour (3 p.m., Mon., March 16, 2009) Just before 2 p.m. a neighbour of the home located at 996380 the Tosorontio/Mulmur Townline north of Rosemont, called 911 to report heavy smoke coming from the home. Another neighbour at the scene said an elderly couple lives in the home and may not have made it out. The couple seldom left home. The husband was confined to a wheelchair. The house is fully involved and firefighters from Rosemont and both Adjala-Tosorontio fire stations are currently on the scene battling the blaze, but the damage is already extensive. There’s little left of the home except the foundation now. Flames were visible initially. Now only smoke is coming from the ruins of the home. Reporter Kurtis Elsner is on the scene. More details, photos and video as they become available.


Whatever floats their cardboard boats

On your marks, get set, float. Staying afloat was the primary goal during the Great Cardboard Boat Race at the Innisfil Recreation Complex Wednesday. Grade 8 students from the public and separate school boards took part in the competition, which was as much about design and ingenuity as it was about paddle power. The program was set up by the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). Judging of the boats was based on construction, speed, weight and team spirit. “The cardboard boat races are for students who have an interest in design and construction,” said Andrea Brulé, OYAP co-ordinator. “The event involves planning, teamwork, problem solving, and most importantly, it’s a fun and interactive learning experience for our Grade 8 students.” The students worked in teams of four and had two hours to build their boat with the provided supplies, including cardboard, duct tape, contact cement, string and a paperclip. Once they were built, students put their creations in the pool and raced with at least one student occupant. If the boat survived the race, they were entered into the weight competition where the boat must stay afloat for a minimum of two minutes with as many students inside as the teams wish. The record to date is a boat holding seven students for two minutes before collapsing.


Meaford man dies after car crashes into harbour

A Meaford man is dead after the vehicle he was in jumped a parking curb and went over the edge of the breakwall into the Meaford Harbour. On Sunday morning, March 22, at 10 a.m., someone observed a dark SUV, which seemed to be parking on Bayfield Street near the intersection of Nelson and Bayfield, when the vehicle suddenly accelerated and dove into the harbour water, according to police. Meaford Fire Department, Grey County OPP and Grey County EMS responded to pull 65-year-old Philip Butler out of his car and out of the harbour. He was brought to the Meaford hospital where he was pronounced dead. Constable Steve Starr, Grey County OPP, said the investigation is ongoing, and may take a while, adding that there are three areas the police are studying: the mechanical state of the vehicle, Butler’s medical condition and whether or not the act was deliberate. Starr commended the Meaford Fire Department on their swift and efficient response to the situation. Grey County OPP asks that anyone with information contact the investigating officer, Constable Alina Grelik.


Police charge two private investigators with fraud

Two private investigators based in Ramara Township are themselves under investigation and facing fraud charges, the OPP are reporting. Police in a statement Monday said two private investigation companies were hired by clients to delve into the backgrounds of unnamed individuals “for potential financial wrongdoings.” Police allege the owners of the two companies provided their clients with bogus financial account information about the people whom they were hired to investigate. The clients then acted on that information, police added. As a result of an investigation by the OPP Anti-Rackets branch, a 60-year-old Ramara Township man is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000. A 64-year-old township woman is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000. They are to appear in a Newmarket court on May 20.


Grass fire along tracks in Tottenham

New Tecumseth firefighters from Tottenham Station 3 battled a grassfire that started in Tottenham Sunday evening along the railway tracks. The fire started along the CP Rail line north of Mill Street between the tracks and the yards of homes on McCurdy Drive. The New Tecumseth Fire Department has responded to three grassfires this spring, including two along railway lines. Sometimes passing trains throw of sparks when they hit stones igniting the dense dead grass. Residents should keep in mind that fire permits are required before you light any outdoor fire. They can be obtained atyour town hall.


Car hits boy in Cookstown

An 11-year-old boy is recovering from minor injuries after being struck by a vehicle while crossing the road at the corner of Church Street and Queen Street in Cookstown on Monday afternoon at approximately 4 p.m. The boy was crossing Queen Street when a northbound vehicle was turning left onto Queen Street. The vehicle hit the boy. Police, firefighters and paramedics rushed to the scene. The young man was treated at the scene and was taken home by his parents. The driver was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian. Stepson assaulted A 48-year-old Belle Ewart man is facing assault charges after an altercation with his stepson. Turns out the young man was trying to break up an argument between his mother and his stepfather when he was grabbed by the neck. The suspect was pushed away and out the door. The man re-entered the house and grabbed the youth by the neck again. Police were called and the suspect was found a short distance away from the house. He was taken back to the North Division headquarters where he was charged and told not to communicate with his wife or stepson. He was given a March court date.


Second prison guard facing assault charges

A second Corrections Officer is now facing a criminal charge relating to the assault of an inmate at Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) On Monday, March 16, officers from the Southern Georgian Bay OPP Crime Unit arrested and charged a 34-year Tiny Township man with assault causing bodily harm. He is scheduled to appear in court in Midland on April 16. Const. Peter Leon of Southern Georgian Bay OPP told The Mirror last week that the victim “sustained an injury that was consistent with the level of assault charges that were laid, noting the person was “experiencing significant discomfort as a result of the injury.” Detectives from the detachment’s crime unit arrested the first corrections officer on March 7 after receiving a complaint from an inmate. In that instance, a 25-year-old Penetanguishene man was been charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm. The alleged incident occurred Feb. 9 at the facility commonly referred to as the superjail.


Fast teaches students about living in poverty

Every night, millions of people around the world go to bed hungry. Local Catholic school students got a taste of what that is like and did their part to solve the problem through an event called THINKfast. The idea for the event comes from Development and Peace, the international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada. Grade 8 students from Marie of the Incarnation, Mother Theresa, St. Charles and St. Jean de Brébeuf schools took part to complement their Confirmation. They began the fast last Thursday at 11 a.m. and ended it with a feast at the Holy Martyrs of Japan parish hall at about 11:30 a.m. Friday. “It’s to teach them they do have a voice; they do make a difference,” organizer Debbie Walsh said. The students raised pledges for Development and Peace as part of the fast. This was the third THINKfast in Bradford West Gwillimbury in the last four years. In previous years, the event has raised between $1,200 and $4,000 each year. The amount raised this year was unavailable at press time. As part of the event, students and their families gathered at their schools last Thursday evening. Some of the schools served a broth with bread to help the students through the fast, Ms Walsh said. Another objective of the event was to bring families, schools and the parish together, she said. The students took part in a mass Friday morning at Holy Martyrs, then listened to two guest presenters. One of the presenters, Noeleen Crawford, spoke to the students about how they are capable of great things. “If you believe in everything, you believe in nothing,” she said. “You’ve got to believe in something.” Luis Orbegoso, a musician from Toronto, then performed on the cajón, a Peruvian percussion instrument. He explained the cajón’s origins as a slave instrument and got the students to sing along with a song about freedom written by freed slaves. After the presentations, the students partook in the feast, which was prepared by members of the Holy Martyrs parish. Students at Holy Trinity High School held their own THINKfast last month.