Since the Pulp Mill went bankrupt in 2004, the Legion #180 has been struggling to keep afloat. After it was re-opened in 2006, a production curtailment followed in 2015.
Many people left town, bringing the population down from 805 to 664. The Legion has had to cut back their hours of operation to 2-7 p.m. daily, serving a little over a dozen “regulars” on a normal day.
According to long time member and now Executive member, Frank Byce, back in the 80s — when the pulp mill was in full production mode — “the place was just booming.” The Legion held dances, concerts, catering events and special dinners put on by the Ladies Auxiliary. “Port Alice was a lot different then.”
The population was 2,200. There were two restaurants, a 14-bed hospital, 14 school teachers, 270 school children and “a lot more young people.”
He recalls that, back then, if you didn’t get into the Legion before 7 p.m. on the weekend, you didn’t get in.
In spite of recent challenges, Legion President Warren Beatty intends “to keep the legion active … to have more functions and activities that increase the involvement of the community.”
The legion would have been forced to close if not for the idea of legion member Bev Steffler, which led to the launching of the Calm Waters Café in 2016.
Open from 8:00 to 11:30 a.m., Wednesday to Saturday, the café serves hot breakfasts ranging from $3 to $6 per item. Since an influx of retirees this past summer brought the population up to about 750, patronage has increased by about 20 per cent, and it doubles during tourist season. The guestbook has been signed by people from all over the world, including Slovakia, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Germany, France, Denmark, Scotland, Dublin, Fort Lauderdale and Okotoks
In addition to the legion’s annual Remembrance Day, Cops for Cancer, Mother’s Day Spring Tea and the Oscar Hickes Turkey Dinner events, their fortunes have been augmented by some special functions that have been a rousing success, including Talent Night, a Courtney Frigstad and Elijah Parrish Night, and a Neil Diamond Tribute Night.
A Meet and Greet Potluck introduced newcomers to established residents in the community. Everyone wore a name tag with their name on it and the year they came to Port Alice. The sole exception was Arlin Lind, whose name tag said “born here.”
The Branch Executive continues to plan more dinners and events. Anyone can rent the legion for $50 a night for a private function or arrange to have it catered for them. If performers would like to put on a show, they can be paid for their services by charging at the door. Judging by the attendance at recent functions, with adequate advertising, they could easily get a full house. An out-of-the-way village with a new batch of retirees from “elsewhere,” there is a strong appetite for “entertainment” among the residents. Hours of operation can be extended to accommodate these functions.
Greater accessibility to the legion has been enabled by a change in policy a few years ago. Membership is no longer restricted to those having had a military member in the family. The Port Alice Legion has approximately 170 members, with new applications coming in all the time. With three-quarters of the membership being 55 and older, younger members are always welcome.
The Legion is always seeking more volunteers to keep operating costs down and share the workload of managing events. They could use more hands to help in the kitchen, and with maintenance work on the building and property.
– Debra Lynn article