Dennis Mills, President of the Bala Legion, is hopeful a visit from the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs breaths new life into their plan to build 128 affordable housing units for people over the age of 55.
Lawrence MacAulay visited Branch 424 Wednesday to participate in a ceremony to honour some of the legion’s longstanding members. However, Mills, who is a long-time friend of MacAulay, took the opportunity to tour the minister around the legion’s property and show him the five acres of land where the legion hopes to build the “Bala Legion Heritage Manor.”
The 134,000 sg. ft., 128-room assisting living and long-term care facility would be built behind where the legion is on Maple Ave., adjacent to the Bala Arena.
Mills asked MacAulay to go back to Ottawa and “fight for their manor.” The minister smiled and said he would do his best.
The idea of the manor dates back to 2017 when Muskoka Lakes council gave the legion approval to move forward to the planning phase. However, Milles says the multiple elections and COVID-19 pandemic that have happened since have stalled their plans. “The COVID experience really put a big shock in our pathway in getting this done,” Mills says. “We’re hoping that the presence of the minister today will rekindle our fervour to get on and get this done.”
Mills explains the facility is a way to bring in additional revenue for the legion, which he says will struggle to continue operating if other revenue streams aren’t created. “We knew that just being a place for special events and our bar wasn’t going to sustain us,” Mills says.
The idea, he continues, was actually copied from a legion in Victoria, BC. The Legion Manor Victoria offers one-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors or seniors in need of assisted living. “We sent a team out there to look at that idea and we’re essentially copying it,” Mills says.
“This is the very first time that the Minister for Veterans Affairs Canada has come to our legion to do a walkabout,” he says. “He’s hopefully going to go back and cheerlead for us with his fellow ministerial colleagues.”
With the legion brass’ spark for the project reignited, the search continues for both funding and a developer.
Mills is hopeful MacAulay’s presence will help to legitimize their project. “All it takes is one builder or operator to step forward,” he says.
The medal ceremony saw honours given to legion members who have served for between five and 45 years. A citation for Comrade Greig Richard Foord making him a Royal Canadian Legion member for life was also made.
Tom and Edith McQueen, parents of the late Captain Thomas “Toast” McQueen, were on-hand as well. Their son, 29, was killed in November 2016 when the aircraft he was piloting crashed during an exercise in the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range.
A picture of the late McQueen, alongside his biography, will be hung in the legion.
McQueen’s parents live in Bala and said during the ceremony that their son was always eager to visit them and spend time in Muskoka.
“It’s an honour to be in the picture, but I don’t deserve it,” MacAulay said after the ceremony. “The ones that did the work deserve the medal.”
His stop in Bala was part of his recent tour of legions across Canada. “What I’m trying to do as minister is making sure I speak to as many people as possible,” he says, adding that legions are so vital as a way to remember those who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.