Summerside Legion plies troubled waters

Executive says legion not closing despite restaurant's loss, departure of manager

Nancy MacPhee
Published on November 4, 2012
LeRoy Gamble, first vice-president of the George R. Pearkes VC Branch No. 5 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Summerside.
Journal Pioneer file photo

SUMMERSIDE — The closure of its restaurant followed by a recent change in management doesn’t mean the end of the Summerside Legion, said its president.

After little over a year in business, Poppy’s restaurant closed in September. Then, last week, manager Robert Palmer left the legion after his contract was not renewed, a move that prompted a number of employees to also leave.

Summerside lawyer and long-time legion member George Lyle has since been appointed interim manager of the facility on a volunteer basis.

“I’ve come in at their request and I am trying to take over management of the legion and turn a corner,” said Lyle.

He would not comment on why Palmer’s contract wasn’t renewed and, in fact, terminated a couple of months before its expiration at the end of this year.

“It was the executive’s decision that we take the branch in a new direction and we terminated the contract of the manager,” said branch president LeRoy Gamble. “We decided to move on with a new manager and a new direction.”

Under Palmer’s leadership, the legion, last year, opened Poppy’s Restaurant.

It was venture that, admitted Lyle and Gamble, lost money, the amount neither would divulge.

But both men said that rumours circulating within the city that the legion is in financial trouble and could soon close are unfounded.

“What we are trying to do is bring the legion back to what it was,” said Lyle. “It was a place for veterans and members of the legion to drop into and not a commercial enterprise. It is not designed in any way to compete with commerce in any way shape or form.”

It was also rumoured that the building was up for sale, that a deal was in the works with the nearby Boys and Girls Club and that apartments could possibly be constructed on its upper level.

“The building is exactly as it is right now and it will continue, as far as I am concerned,” said Lyle. “If we have to change the direction of the building, that will be a desperation move and that will only happen if we become very desperate.

“Right now we are not desperate.”

The focus now is on reviewing the legion’s revenues and expenditures, which Lyle is now doing with the help of chartered account Richard Corkum of Poole and Corkum.

“As soon as we get a handle on the cash flow then we can start looking at the expenses,” said Lyle. “I cannot imagine dropping any of our revenue generators. We haven’t seen any effect on that revenue generation with the change that’s happening.”

He admitted money lost by Poppy’s did impact the legion’s bottom line, although he wouldn’t comment any further on finances or the cost to operate the legion.

“The revenue comes from liquor sales. It comes from functions that we do, food sales in those functions, the membership and other operations,” said Lyle. “We have enough revenue coming in to support this building and support the members.”

Once he has a better grasp of the legion’s finances, Lyle said it would be an issue regularly discussed at the executive’s monthly meetings.

And members of the now defunct Legion Ladies Auxiliary, which disbanded earlier this year, have agreed help with events, he added.

“They are interested in the branch and interested in the branch’s success. They are coming back as volunteers.”

The job now is to bring the legion back to its initial mandate. That means focusing on its more than 400 members and offering more events geared to them.

“We’re not closing and there is no intention of closing,” said Lyle. “We’re taking a step back to what it was.

Gamble, a member for 53 years, said the legion is more than just bricks and mortar.

“This branch means more to me than I will ever be able to express. It has done more things for me than I will ever be able to tell. And those are positive things,” he added. “I want to be able to come here in the morning and I want to be able to do something that furthers and makes this branch prosper so we can carry on for which it was designed for — the veteran population.”