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The localest Legion in the land

Shred Kelly regularly draws sold out crowds at the Jasper Royal Canadian Legion. Brian Van Tighem photo.

The Jasper Royal Canadian Legion has generated a strong local following in recent years in large part because of it’s focus on  live music. Brian Van Tighem photo.

Normally forgetting to remove your headgear upon entering the clubhouse of any Royal Canadian Legion costs the offender a round for the room.

That said, at most Legion halls these days getting caught on that rule is less and less dangerous because there’s nearly no one to buy a drink for.

This is the case on any given day in faltering Legions across the country, struggling to connect with a society where changes in demographics and their interests are the only constant. Most Legions today are crippled by declining membership and in many cases crushed under large halls they can’t afford to maintain anymore.

In Espanola, Ont., which has about the same population as Jasper, in downtown Calgary, in Hinton, in Vancouver, or in Winnipeg, the story is the same.

Less so in Jasper.

The only other Legion I’ve seen as lively as the home of the Stand Easy stage exists in Fort Smith, N.W.T. It’s one of two bars in town and the only place where you can drink and peel Nevada tickets all night.

Not so in Jasper.

If you’re buying a ticket at Branch 31, those dollars are either going to some threadbare, probably bearded and certainly starving bard moot, or to a worthy local cause.

Want to put Jasper’s pride on display with a rainbow crosswalk? Legion. Want to build a school in Myanmar? Legion. Fight MS? Legion.

The Legion is the hub within the hub, a tangible lynchpin in the community that occupies the valley floor. There is something special to the place, and it’s about more than performers sticking a poppy in their hat instead of taking it off.

It’s why a big act like Corb Lund, who could fill the Saddledome, stops at the Jasper Legion on his way through while on tour.

“People in Jasper are good people,” Legion manager Sue Henderson explains. “I know when they come in those doors, I don’t have the rowdies. Jasper takes care of their own and they respect the Legion for what it is. Yes, it’s this huge music venue that it’s turned into, but they still know the Legion is for veterans and they respect that, with their hats off, for example.”

Hats off to Sue, Legion president Ken Kuzminski and the rest of the team for making Jasper, already a Canadian crown jewel, just a little more special. Maybe even a little more Canadian.

If Jasper is the winterest, the Legion is the localest.

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