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Morris Legion on the move

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 06/25/2018 10:03 AM

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Morris Legion secretary Tim Lewis removes wall hangings from the building’s interior. Declining rental revenues prompted the sale of the property, but the branch remains active, and is searching for a rental space that can accommodate monthly meetings of both the Legion and Ladies’ Auxiliary.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Morris Legion secretary Tim Lewis removes wall hangings from the building’s interior. Declining rental revenues prompted the sale of the property, but the branch remains active, and is searching for a rental space that can accommodate monthly meetings of both the Legion and Ladies’ Auxiliary.

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In a bid to regain financial sustainability, Morris’s Royal Canadian Legion branch will vacate its longtime home on Charles Avenue West at the end of June.

"It’s a sad day for everybody," said secretary Tim Lewis, who confirmed the executive is looking to rent a church basement or similar space for its monthly meetings, after selling the Legion property to Fehr’s Cabinet Warehouse.

Membership is holding steady at 70, Lewis said, while the Ladies’ Auxiliary, which meets on the same night, has another 20 to 30 members. Ideally, the new space will house both groups at once, and possess a kitchen for social functions.

Declining revenues prompted the move. Branch No. 111 was losing $500 to $600 per month, Lewis said, as its wood-panelled interior garnered fewer and fewer event bookings over the past decade.

"At one time it was very busy. This was the hub of the town. Weddings, socials, family reunions; everything happened here."

Lewis surmised younger generations are organizing fewer socials, while the completion of the Morris Multiplex created a more competitive rentals landscape.

The Legion also gradually lost regular tenants. A former provincial courthouse and polling station, the 5,800-sq-ft. building was also a meeting place for now-defunct local chapters of the Lions Club and Women’s Institute, Lewis said.

At the time of the sale, its only current tenant was Manitoba Public Insurance, who ran weekly driver licensing tests. The Legion also sponsored the Morris chapter of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, who have since relocated to St Pierre.

A Town of Morris councillor involved with the Legion for four decades, Lewis said his late father, Owen Lewis, was a Second World War veteran and one of the branch’s founders.

He recalled the building’s usefulness as an emergency base when a flood forced the evacuation of Morris in 1979.

The original building was placed onsite in the 1950s, and additions were built over the following two decades.

"Everybody’s put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into running the building for years and years. But the realization was there that we couldn’t do it any longer," Lewis said.

The decision to sell was made last fall, after other options were exhausted. Mechanical upgrades were too costly, while aging membership ruled out a concentrated fundraising push.

"I think the writing was on the wall," Lewis said.

The Legion benefitted from a property tax exemption, but paid levies for essential services like fire protection.

Before the property could be listed, the branch had to approach provincial command for permission to sell, then hold a member vote.

It was a bittersweet process, as Lewis said members were keenly aware of other rural Legion branches that have been forced to close.

"We’re in a better position than that."

Looking ahead, Lewis said he’s hopeful the sale will remove the constant distraction of financial hardship and allow the executive to focus on its top priority: supporting veterans and their families.

As for the building’s contents, larger items like tables and chairs have been sold, and others placed in storage. Members will have a chance to take home smaller items of sentimental value, while those with a historical connection may be donated to a museum, Lewis said.

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