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Sudbury's original Legion branch celebrates 90 years

Royal Canadian Legion Dr. Fred Starr Branch 76 formed Dec. 2, 1926

The organization now known as the Royal Canadian Legion was formed in 1925, in the post-First World War period, as a merger between several veterans' organizations.

Not long afterwards, on Dec. 2, 1926, what's now known as the Royal Canadian Legion Dr. Fred Starr Branch 76 formed in Sudbury with 15 charter members. It was the original Legion branch in Sudbury, and is still the largest.

Despite the fact the veterans of the First World War are now long dead, Branch 76 is alive and well, and is celebrating its 90th anniversary tonight (Dec. 2) with a sold-out dinner and dance.

“I think it's amazing,” said Gisele Pharand, public relations officer with Branch 76. 

“I think it just shows what we stand for, helping the veterans. We're still here and we're still doing the job that these gentlemen wanted to do back in 1926.”

There's not many Legion branches out there that are able to say they've been around for 90 years, said Jim Young, the branch's president.

“I think it makes us proud that we've been here 90 years,” he said. “Many branches started after us, and many branches started at the same time as us, but have not survived.”

Branch 76's first home was in the basement of the old post office at the corner of Elm and Durham streets, which became known as the “dugout.” During the Depression, it served as a soup kitchen.

After relocating temporarily to the old Central Public School on Minto Street, a new home for Branch 76 officially opened in the post-Second World War period, in 1949, at the corner of Frood and College streets. 

By the way, that building later became the Steelworkers Hall, which burned down in 2008. The site is now a parking lot.

The official opening of Branch 76's current site, located on Weller Street in Minnow Lake, overlooking Lake Ramsey, took place in October 1973.

The branch was named at that time for Dr. Fred Starr, a First World War veteran who served three terms as president of Branch 76.

“We're still as vibrant as ever,” said Young. “Our membership is strong, and we're planning to build a new building at this particular site … that would also include a seniors complex.”

Branch 76 still has about 500 members, and hosts activities such as dances, pool and shuffleboard. But membership is declining at all Royal Canadian Legion branches, and Branch 76 is no different. Young said he can remember a time more than two decades ago when the branch had 1,500 members.

While the Legion was at one time only open to those who had served in the armed forces, that's not the case any more — anyone is able to join.

Young said anyone who believes in “service not for self” — that's the Legion's motto — should consider joining.

He said Branch 76 supports local cadet groups and projects such as the Sam Bruno PET Scan Fund, the Northeast Cancer Centre and Maison Vale Hospice. They also work to get homeless veterans off the street.

So will Branch 76 last until its 100th birthday and well into the future?

“As long as people are giving and as long as people are believing in wanting to do something for the greater good and serve others, then legions will exist,” Young said.

More on Branch 76's history is available on this website.