The BC Legion weathered the difficult COVID-19 pandemic

Branch 176 of The Royal Canadian Legion is a place where young and old can come together and help each other.

Early Saturday morning the week before Remembrance Day, a local British Columbia Legion is busy with young cadets making poppies.

Tucked away on a side street near Kitsilano Beach is Branch 176 of the Royal Canadian Legion. The building has stood the test of time, having been built in the 1930s.

Billy Bishop/Kerrisdale Branch President James ‘Jim’ Dadd has worn many hats to ensure members are taken care of since becoming the Legion in 1960.

“It’s a place where they can come and relax and chat with other people,” he says.

From building maintenance to the smooth running of operations and dinners, he is a staple of the legion.

“Saturday I come and help out with dinner, then I go upstairs and tell terribly awful jokes before dinner,” he told Glacier Media.

If you ask him for a joke, he has plenty on hand.

But what exactly was the driving force behind its 30+ year membership?

“I guess it’s seeing everyone having fun. Having a good time. And we want to make sure everyone is okay,” Dadd says.

The British style pub sits below sea level giving a dark and cozy ambiance. Inside, the intimate tables bring people together as they are surrounded by plaques from around the world.

“These are all regimental plaques, or ship plaques, or squadron plaques from different parts of Canada, [the] Allies and everywhere else,” he said.

Over the years, visitors have become aware of the collection and donated their plaques.

“So ultimately it was built for that,” he says. “There’s been a lot of donations and so many in fact that they’re not all…on display. There’s a storage room where there’s more.

In the center of the room above the fireplace is a portrait of Billy Bishop himself, Canada’s First World War flying ace.

“Billy Bishop’s family gave the legion permission to use his name,” Dadd explains.

Around the establishment, volunteers are busy taking care of the garden and grounds in anticipation of today (November 11).

And if you look closely, a small path winding past the legion is made of commemorative bricks. They are meant to remember those who never returned from war and those whose lives were changed by war.

What kind of support does the legion offer?

As Dad prepares for Remembrance Day this year, he thinks of his dad.

“My father didn’t die in the war, but he died because of the war. He served in the Royal Navy for 22 years during the war.”

Remembrance Day is not the only day when members, their families and the community remember the fallen. In this legion, and many others, support is offered year-round.

Dadd explains how the pub and the legion are not just a place to gather, but also to relax, chat with others and help veterans and their families.

“Whether it’s housing, whether it’s medical, whether there are resources available within the legion and poppy fund and veterans affairs that can help them,” he says. “It’s a place where people can be introduced and know what the Legion stands for and what it can do for those people.”

Once inside the pub, Dad explains that there is a person who seems to know everything that is going on.

“We have a bartender, she’s a member and she’s been here forever. A long moment. And you know, everyone knows her. They are very, very friendly. And so if there is a problem, she will know about it,” he says.

Coming home after serving can be very difficult for members of the military, especially when they are not with their troops or the people with whom they have served.

“Veterans of World War I, World War II, a lot of them went overseas as a unit,” Dadd says. “So they were all together as a group. Whereas now they come from all different places across Canada.”

When they return home and join the Legion, they are surrounded by other members who understand what they have been through.

“The camaraderie is there because they’re, you know, they’ve been in service.”

Dadd says veterans can be anyone who wore a uniform, not just those who served in the war. He tells Glacier Media that the Legion welcomes everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed membership

Affiliate 176 membership is now higher than it was in 2019. (It costs $65 per year.)

According to Dadd, the pandemic has been difficult for their members and many people have been unable to gather in person.

Their pub had to be closed due to pandemic regulations as it was considered a bar; he says they tried to come up with a solution to serve food instead so people could still support each other and spend time together.

“That was our goal…to try to keep the place open as much as possible for people coming in.”

They also renovated the legion to have better ventilation.

Now the menu is gone but they still serve dinner on Saturdays with entertainment.

“A lot of people now, especially younger people, join us because it’s a place where they can come with their friends,” says Dadd.

This legion also alleges that it has some of the cheapest beers in Vancouver.

“It’s about $1.50 cheaper than anywhere else. And that price includes all taxes,” he says.

There are over 450 members currently and Dadd says it’s a mix of veterans and youngsters.

“We really appreciate you wanting to come and join us and we have a lot here that you might learn and like about Billy Bishop.”

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 176 commemorative bricks. Alanna Kelly

Carol N. Valencia