Ray Cormie, president of the LaSalle branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, got a call Tuesday morning that served as a jolting reminder of how close he came to losing the branch.
“They were confirming that we’re going for sale on Monday and Wednesday,” he told first vice president Bruce Allen.
It was the city calling to confirm contact information before placing a notice in a local newspaper next week that the building is for sale.
The call came shortly before Cormie was supposed to head to Montreal city hall to pay back taxes. He had received notice some weeks ago that the building would be closed by November 4th if the branch didn’t pay its 2017 municipal taxes, amounting to just over $26,000.
The branch lost its tax-exempt status back in 2013 because the Quebec government claimed that the branch wasn’t doing enough work for the community, something branch executives dispute. So the taxes jumped from $3,000 to around $30,000, which they had been paying until last year.
“We ran into the hole trying to pay it,” said Allen.
But the branch appealed to the public for help and in just over a month, they managed to raised around $30,000.
“It was really amazing,” Allen said, “that a lot of people came together that never really came here, but they just walked in and gave $50 or $100.
Now, on Tuesday — five days before the building was to be closed — Cormie and other members of the executive marched into Montreal city hall and paid.
“It’s over,” said Cormie, grinning. “Done.”
But the battle isn’t over. He now has to once again apply for tax exemption.
“That has to be done in the next eight days,” he said.
He’s confident that with the number of community groups that use the legion, they’ll get it.
“All of them are at least charitable or non-profit and they’re all community groups and organizations,” he explained, adding that they intend to make sure the government understands the level of their community involvement. At least three-quarters of the activity in the building must be for the community, a condition to obtain tax exemption.
Members of the LaSalle D&D Fifty-plus Centre, one group that uses space at the branch twice weekly, hope they do, because losing the building would mean struggling to find other options.
“There’s not a lot of places that can accommodate such a large group as ours,” explained group coordinator Dorothy Gleason. “We do a lot here.”
There are other ways the branch’s future is looking up. With the recent call for funds, they got another boost in numbers — their membership.
“I’d say it’s jumped by about 20 to 25 per cent,” Cormie smiled.
That has brought the number to just over 200 members. It’s a sign, branch executives think, that the public hasn’t forgotten what the Legion stands for.
“We weren’t going down without a fight,” said Allen, frowning, “and we’re still here!”