(from l) Gordon and Lee Berdan in front of the framed ensign from HMCS Sudbury which they recently presented to the Ashcroft Legion. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Ashcroft Legion continues helping community in tough times

Branch now also displays a recently donated artifact from WW II corvette HMCS Sudbury

It has been a challenging time for Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country, but Ashcroft Branch #113 recently reached out to help the Thompson-Cariboo Minor Hockey Association (TCMHA), presenting them with a cheque for $2,000 to help with ice time costs.

The branch is also celebrating the addition of a historic artifact to its Ashcroft building: an ensign that flew on HMCS Sudbury, a Flower-class corvette that served the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, primarily in the Battle of the Atlantic as a convoy escort.

Darrin Curran, president of the Ashcroft Legion, says that they had heard that TCMHA was having financial problems because of not being able to have games this year. The organization had been able to hold “skills and drills” practices for players at the Drylands Arena in Ashcroft, and had been gearing up to be able to ease back into having games when new provincial health orders ended that prospect.

“Because of not having games, they have no concession to make money,” says Curran. “We approached TCMHA, and they were more than happy to get the donation.”

One of the mandates of the Legion is to assist youth programs in the community, and the Ashcroft branch sponsors an annual bursary for a graduating student at Desert Sands Community School. They also support TCMHA annually with funds to purchase equipment, and have helped minor soccer in the area when the league is operational.

Sadly, the members of Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Corp #347 Avenger have been unable to parade since November. “In-person meetings were shut down then by the regional cadet support unit, which goes along with the provincial health order about no gatherings, so everything is on hold at the moment,” says Curran.

“We talked to the kids about doing stuff virtually, but they weren’t interested. I think they’re doing enough virtually through school, plus not everyone has the best internet connection.”

For two years starting in 2018, the cadets raised funds for a trip to Halifax in May 2020 for the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Atlantic. The trip was cancelled because of COVID-19, but Curran says the money is still in the bank for a future trip.

“When the opportunity arises and everything reopens, the money is there for the cadets to go to Halifax, but it won’t be this May. Every day is a wait and see moment.”

In the meantime, the Ashcroft Legion has welcomed the addition of the framed ensign from the Sudbury, which now hangs in the branch. It was donated by Ashcroft residents Lee and Gordon Berdan, who had it for some 35 years.

“Lee’s uncle served on the Sudbury in World War II, and gave it to me, since I’d been in the Navy for 21 years,” says Berdan. “The ensign was flying on the Sudbury when she was decommissioned in 1945, and Lee’s uncle was a senior signalman on board her at the time. It has a lot of history.

“It’s been in a plastic bag at home, and we thought that was a shame. We’re so glad that it’s been placed where it can be seen and appreciated.”

The ensign, along with panels telling the ship’s history, was framed by Bernie Sonmor and Scott Kelly, and now hangs on the west wall of the Legion, where it can be viewed by anyone in the building. The Legion is currently open from 1 to 6 p.m. daily except Friday and Saturday, when it is open until 8 p.m., for socializing.

“There won’t be any meals for the foreseeable future, and no games or meat draws,” says Curran. “We’ve really tried hard to make sure we can keep open. We know it’s a location for people to get together during the pandemic and see their friends, especially now with new health orders about not letting other people in your household.

“Individual tables are kept to households, but we have the seating arranged with empty tables between groups so you can still converse with other people but keep physical distancing. People have been very good about the rules. We thought we might have run into more of an issue, but people have accepted it, and it hasn’t been a problem.”

The Ashcroft Legion recently received grant funding from the federal government via Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund, which distributed a total of $14 million to Legions across Canada to help them survive the financial challenges presented by COVID-19.

“We got the maximum amount available, to help us out with any money we had spent through reopening or that we lost through the three-month closure last year. When we reopened in May we had to bring everything up to WorkSafe rules: plexiglass, hand sanitizer, all the necessary stuff.

“We’ve been holding our own, but there are still bills to pay even if the doors are closed.”

Curran says that Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis has been very helpful in dealing with various challenges.

“We spoke with him about the shutdown, and told him about not being able to shut the phone off — even though we were closed — because of disconnection/reconnection fees. He agreed that it was wrong there would be those fees considering the situation we faced, and said he had a meeting with TELUS execs the next day and would bring it up.

“We got a phone call two days later from TELUS regarding those fees, and if we’re put in the same position again we have the regional manager’s cell number, and are supposed to contact them about disconnecting the phone temporarily with no associated fees. We felt it wasn’t fair to have to pay those fees, because we were forced to shut our doors; it wasn’t voluntary. We were looking for any way to save money.”

While events such as the annual Burns Night dinner — which should have been taking place this week — have had to be cancelled, Curran acknowledges that the Ashcroft Legion is fortunate to be able to keep the doors open at all.

“Some Legions aren’t open at the moment because it’s not viable. Keeping the bills paid and the lights on: that’s all we’re trying to do right now. Stuffing money away is not a plausible concept. Keeping the doors open is what matters.”

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Ashcroft Legion branch president Darrin Curran (l) presents a cheque for $2,000 to Thompson-Cariboo Minor Hockey Association president Kris Billy, to assist the association with operating costs. (Photo credit: Submitted)