In the Beginning…
Woodbine Heights Branch 22 of the Royal Canadian Legion can be traced back to its beginnings in the church basement of the Church of the Resurrection on Woodbine Avenue. It was a men’s club within the church. Most of the members were returned veterans of World War I, who had registered their names with the Veterans Association. They later called themselves “The Woodbine Heights Branch” of the Association.
During the fall of 1921, a councillor, later to become the first reeve of East York Township, Bob Barker, gave the group a lot on Barker Avenue to build their own Hall.
Volunteer work parties were the order of the day. A hole 20’ by 10’ was dug by members, friends and neighbours. During the digging, a team of horses was borrowed (likely from Sheppard and Gill Lumber Company, as a teamster in their employ, Sid turner was a member). During the digging, Walter Caton, Sr. took a hand at the horse drawn scoop, hit a rock, and nearly tore himself in two.
When the hole was covered with a roof it was a major cause for celebration. It seems they found many reasons to celebrate in those days. Everyone lived within hailing distance and could get there in a few minutes.
Home brew was made by almost everyone back then. Members would vie for “the best quality”. Most of the brew never went anywhere because the contents could not stand the shaking up necessary during the transportation. Tops would fly off, so of course, what was saved had to be drunk somewhere. A good time was had by all!
By 1925, a hole in the back wall was cut out and a cellar was begun. Most of the labour was supplied by the original members. When the floor was finally laid, Mrs. Vankoughnet, a lady who was in charge of a committee to support war veterans, supplied a billiard table and a piano. Plans then went ahead to build the hall proper.
In 1926, a start was made when the sports committee ran a field day and raised $1500.00 This money almost paid off all of the new building debt. We were on solid ground and rolling! These field days were run for three years with some success. There were wrestling exhibitions, boxing, a mini midway with rides for children, and a beauty contest.
The charter for Woodbine Heights Br. 22 was signed October 30, 1926 and the first president of the branch was Doug McKinley.
In 1929, a circus was engaged with a percentage of the take going to the branch. This was during the early days of the depression, and a lot of young men were out of work and threatened to do damage to the circus property. This caused a lot of members to assist the police in guarding the property well into the night. Some members were armed with whips and heavy sticks, but due to cool heads and police control no violence erupted. These men had been in a war and were still ready to do battle. Eventually, the township did make work available.
In 1934, the branch took advantage of the new beer licencing sales law of Ontario. It was felt necessary to extend the hall, so a bar was built out back and a committee formed called the Board of Management. Their duties were to operate the bar. The first committee consisted of Jim Robertson, Ernie King, Bill Couch, and Mike McManus as steward. Beer was sold at 15 cents a bottle. Our stock was kept at just above 12 cases. There was no refrigeration and the beer was kept cold in an open tank of running water. Labels would soak off and only the steward could tell what beer he was serving, Dominion Walkerville or Jubilee.
Competition among beer salesmen was keen in those days. One salesman gave us a percentage of his sales for the “picnic” or “Christmas tree”. Another one provided entertainment for a party (only his brand would be available). One also supplied the makings of a dinner with entertainers. It would be advertised as a “Free Dinner”. “Bring you own knife, fork and spoon and drink our beer. During the depression, the hall would be filled.
The poppy fund was distributed by a committee of three. Meetings were called when a request for funds was presented. These meetings proved to be useless. There were so many requests for funds that a date was set for applications and one for fund distribution. The whole amount was divided equally among the applicants. Water, heat and light were the first consideration. The remainder usually $2.00 each was the hand-out. The township looked after food and clothing.
The Ladies Auxiliary of Branch 22 signed their charter in December of 1926. The purpose of setting up the auxiliary was to raise funds for the branch, visit hospitalized veterans, and fundraise for charities. They did this by catering, running bingos, Friday night socials and dances. All this was done at a time when women were not allowed in the clubroom. (It was still known as “the men’s branch”). However, a veteran and Ladies’ Auxiliary member (Dorothy Soper) fought the branch on this and won, allowing wives of veterans and Ladies Auxiliary members to come into the clubroom. This comrade later went on to become the first female president of Branch 22. Branch 22 should consider themselves fortunate. Our ladies are one of the few remaining auxiliary groups that cater functions to this day. The branch still benefits from all their endeavours as a sizeable donation is presented to the branch each year.
Items from “Old Minute Books”
1943 – A letter was received from the association in connection with the British Minesweeps needs. It was moved that a donation of $5.00 be sent for the purchase of wool. A recommendation was made that a caretaker be on duty when the bar is closed for periods during the daytime, and that the hall be closed until 8:00 pm each evening excepting Saturday when the hall is open from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. It was moved that owing to a vacancy for a bar steward, that one be appointed to the duties of steward/caretaker at $36 per week.
1946 – Building committee reports some complaints registered against the conduct of some of the patrons of the branch. It is up to each and every one of us to conduct ourselves in a proper manner at all times. It was suggested that any member who offends or violates the laws of the public should be brought up before the executive and dealt with. It was moved that no members be allowed to shoot “craps” on the premises.
1948 – It was moved that we buy 3 coleman lamps to be used during hydro cut-offs.
1949 – Special meeting re building of new hall. A report was made on financing and that we had been unsuccessful from the banks and mortgage brokers. It was suggested that we ask members to go to a bond for approximately $45,000.00. A vote was taken on the question of building a new hall, results were unanimously in favour. A committee was elected: Comrades G. Couch, J. MacDonald, W. Crieton, G. Mason, R. Mcmillen, J. Petch and J. O’Neil.
1950 – Committee given “Go Ahead” to build new hall. There was report made on the laying of the corner stone for the new hall on Woodbine Avenue.
1951 – The builder formally handed the new hall to Branch 22 Trustees on January 10, 1951. Cost of the new building – $135,342.33.
1953 – Under the heading of new business, a discussion arose regarding “strip tease” performances in the hall. This type of entertainment has now been banned by the Executive Board”.
1954 – A report was made that we pay off the mortgage by June, 1954. A report was made announcing the formation of the “70 club” for members 70 years of age and older. A refund of realty taxes was received in the amount of $556.35.
1961 – There was a motion that the price of a bottle of beer be raised to 29 cents plus 1 cent tax. One comrade recorded his vote against it.
For much of the 60’s and 70’s, the branch enjoyed good times as did most clubs. Halls were full for most dances, (country western was big), picnics, parties, New Years and Robbie Burns nights were popular. From the stories I’ve heard, as much fun was had during the closed hours as there was when the club was open.
At some point in the mid 80’s and early 90’s, the good times slowly dropped off. The spirit of volunteerism grew dim. The “march of time” had taken its toll on our veterans.
The branch suffered financially as our expenditures began to exceed our income, minimal repairs were made and the upkeep of the building appeared to be put on an “urgent only” status. This was due mainly to the lack of funds now necessary for this purpose.
By the mid 90’s, we were ready to close our doors. Funds were available for only what was deemed absolutely necessary. Tax bills were in arrears, wages and benefits had to be paid, and mortgage and insurance costs covered. The general body was advised that action had to be taken if we were to save Woodbine Heights.
Once again the volunteerism kicked in. When we were forced to lay off our stewards, the executive took over the job on a volunteer basis. Many a member showed up for bar duty tired from their regular job, but willing to put in more hours in the club room. If they were tired and irritable, no one ever knew it. Somehow or other, we managed to carry this off for one full year!
Skilled volunteers did electrical work, fixed plumbing, (parts were purchased with Canadian Tire money), and a certain tax avoided with a member’s “status card”! We painted, scrubbed, cleaned, and hung wallpaper, almost all labour was accomplished with volunteers. New materials were scrounged from everywhere. Sometimes I think we have something from every building site and office that anyone in the branch ever worked for! Art Leblanc used to actually apologize when he had to order needed cleaning supplies (He had firsthand knowledge of my early morning entrapments by bill collectors). Expenses were cut to the bone. Bar towels were taken home to be laundered. Phone service was cut to the minimum. Free pop was ancient history. Useless contracts were dissolved. Our head was slowly rising above the water.
Today, April 2003, we are a thriving viable branch. The funds were there to pay off our mortgage, erect a new roof, replace all carpeting, rebuild the furnace, purchase a new beer fridge, panel and paint the Normandy room, and re-tile kitchens, washrooms and the third floor stage. Just recently new cash registers were purchased for all three bar areas.
As I write this, I am very much aware that our building fund is now almost depleted. However, I am also confident that it will be up to a five figure amount by this time next year (barring unforeseen major problems).
Since its inception, volunteers have saved this branch tens of thousands of dollars in labour costs and more. They have given much time and effort selflessly.
Thanks to you, we are now officially “debt free”.
This booklet was written by Barbara Raby in April, 2003 and was presented at the “burning of the mortgage for the last time” meeting. Barb dedicated this to the many volunteers, who over the years had given countless hours to Woodbine Heights, Branch 22. Barb was amongst those volunteers.
Thank you, Barb, for this dedication and for all the efforts you made to help save Branch 22.
We will remember you.