In 2016 Branch 560 will celebrate 60 years of service to our veterans and the community.
Many of our members will not be aware of the struggles, the challenges, disappointments and victories behind the history of those 60 years. A history made by the efforts of hundreds of faithful volunteers facing adversity, destructive fires, changing legislation and lack of funding.
It began in 1956 when a small group of WWII and Korea veterans set out to fulfill a dream, to build a second branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Kingston. Branch #9 was well established.
After several meetings, they gathered 50 signatures, submitted an application, and on 16 August, 1956 they received the charter. Branch 560 was born, located in rented 2nd floor rooms at 71 Brock Street. On 30 July, 1958, the Ladies Auxiliary received their own charter, an important step toward the success of the branch.
The founding members signed promissory notes to borrow funds to fulfill their dream to own a building. They struggled to raise money with a small membership through fundraisers and donations, and then a benefactor, the Stuart Crawford Estate provided the down payment for a building at the corner of Brock and Ontario Streets in 1962.
These club rooms needed a lot of renovations and cash was short, but after a lot of volunteer work the building was occupied in October 1963. Disaster struck in 1968 when fire destroyed the building. This did not deter the valiant volunteers.
The charter members and their lawyer, LCol. (Ret) Britton Smith set up a corporation called Brock Ontario and work began again with unpaid labour, cash donations and fundraising events. More disasters came quickly with two more fires, forcing the branch to move quarters five times until the building at 263 Ontario Street was purchased.
This was a three story building and branch activities occurred on all three floors. It was completely remodelled and the Ladies Auxiliary took on a special project to raise money for an elevator. But sadly, after all the hard work and generosity of charter members, membership numbers fell due in part to lack of parking, and the building had to be sold in 1986.
The dreamers never gave up, and the ultimate dream came to fruition; to own their own property designed and built to their specifications. The property at 734 Montreal Street was purchased and on Boxing Day, December 26, 1986 the doors opened for business. These impressive facilities were said at the time to be the finest in Ontario, but the dream was not finished and later the two story addition and the beautiful patio were added. The land needed to build this addition included what later became ‘Veterans Field’ a ball diamond for the use of Kingston’s youth which for 25 years was used by the KBA.
In 2012, the diamond was sold to the City of Kingston with the understanding that the name would not be changed, and that it was still available for Kingston’s youth to use. This eliminated the branch’s liability for education taxes on the property and allowed us to invest a good portion of the proceeds of the sale in a contingency fund for future maintenance of our building.
The financial situation of Branch 560 is a far cry from those early days of struggle and hardship. The mortgage document was burned in 2011 at a special event to which every living past president was invited. But every member owes a debt of gratitude to those dreamers, the charter members with a vision that they never gave up on. Every one of today’s members believes he or she is a moral “shareholder” in that unique and valuable asset. Every comrade feels he owns a piece of the dream, but let us not forget how it was achieved.