When the Bowen Island Legion started up in the 1940s, only three cottages made up its surrounding neighbourhood. Today, the area is one of Bowen’s most densely populated neighbourhoods. In 2007, the Legion entered into an agreement with the municipality that restricts noise levels, the number of amplified events and requiring the 80% approval of such events from local residents. The Legion is now asking for a re-negotiation of that “Good Neighbour Agreement,” (GNA) but neighbours to the Legion have expressed their opposition to proposed changes.
There are four changes that the Legion wants to make to the GNA: they would like to be able to host 12 amplified events per year as opposed to 10, they would like to be able to hold some amplified events without getting a Noise Exemption Permit, they would like a “blanket Noise Exemption” for a number of events planned well in advance - to create less work for volunteers canvassing the local neighbourhood, and they would like the level of approval for noise exemptions from neighbours to go from 80% to 70%.
Richard Best, a direct neighbour to the Legion, presented a letter to council stating the opposition of 21 neighbours to this plan. He said the number of complaints about the Legion to the municipality has been low since 2012 because most neighbours have tried to deal directly with the Legion about concerns and also because many of the new people living in the area don’t know about the GNA in the first place.
Best read segments of the letter describing neighbours’ experiences of trying to call the Legion to ask them to turn down the noise but not getting an answer “because they couldn’t hear the phone” and people going over to the Legion to shut the doors themselves.
Another neighbour speaking at council pointed to the Legion’s request to have bingo calling being made exempt from the noise.
“I think what they were really asking for was not bingo calling, but the axe-throwing in the parking lot, being allowed to have the announcers speak out their names and tell how close they were to a bulls-eye, to which I have the pleasure of listening to for hours on end on a Thursday afternoon...”
In considering both the Legion’s requests and the public comments made on the issue, members of council agreed that the Legion should be asked to hold an open-house on the Good Neighbour Agreement and their requests. Councillors Gary Ander and Alison Morse stated their belief that The Legion should cover the costs of this process.
Councillor Sue Ellen Fast stated her disagreement on this point.
“I have a vision of the Legion as being a part of our decentralized sort of community centre, it is a volunteer group and as we all know, Legion’s across Canada are all facing challenges,” she said. “And would we really like to charge a volunteer group for coming before council?”
Council decided, in the end, not to lay the cost of the process on the Legion.
Yvonne McSkimming, current President of the Legion Board says that the outcome of this process could make an impact on the Legion’s future.
“We are not given money by the larger organization of Legions, in fact, we have to send money to that organization. We have to make money to stay open,” she says. “And if we can’t make money, we can’t stay open. The current rules of the GNA are really prohibitive of us and it has been challenging for us to throw any event in the past year, including bingo or Friday night dinners, without a complaint. This is all extremely problematic given how much everyone on the island uses the Legion: it is the emergency hub for that side of the island, and almost all the local non-profits use it for fundraising - and we don’t charge them. Personally, I value the Legion for it’s history and the fact that it has been a bedrock on the island for so long. But if the community is okay with it no longer being a Legion - so be it.”