For six years, Barrie Hewer was one of the first to open the front door of the Peachland Legion in the morning, and sometimes, the last to turn out the lights. He was there on Saturdays and Sundays, but on this chilly Tuesday morning, I’m meeting him in a new capacity — he’s the officially-retired manager of the place, and it’s time to sit down and reflect on a job well done.
“According to my wife Pam, I was here too much,” he says with a smile.
“She was remarkably patient during my time here, she knew what I was trying to do.”
Today, Branch #69 is on the upswing. In October, a much-anticipated and badly-needed new roof was finally installed. And in the past few years, the kitchen was redone, and so were the washrooms. Most of the building’s mechanical problems have been dealt with, and a little more than three years ago, a new bar was put in. For Hewer, that was a highlight.
“There was a big discussion around whether they should fix the roof first or expand the bar. But getting the bar done meant that we could make money — there was no grant available to do the bar, so we had to get it done so we could get some funds rolling in,” says Hewer, crediting an architect friend who suggested getting rid of a wall, lengthening the bar and adding another cooler. Now, there’s more room for patrons to saddle up and enjoy a beverage.
The renos were a lot of work, says Hewer, and he credits its completion to a core group of volunteers who were committed to getting the Legion out of the hole.
“Things were a bit of a mess,” he says, when asked why he decided to step up as manager.
“When I was on the executive, the building was in very bad shape. We had a leak, there was mould in the cellar and the floor was soft where the bar is, you could tell there was water damage underneath. A lot of the equipment was run down, and they were saddled with enough debt to choke a horse.”
The Legion was running in the red, and the road to get back into the black was daunting.
Fundraising was a big part of the equation, but only a small portion can be used for capital projects, as most of the money the Legion raises goes right back to the community. So, Hewer set out negotiating with vendors, and finding ways to run the place more like a business.
“I had to learn fast about food and beverage because the margins are so tiny,” Hewer says.
“As you know, we’ve lost several restaurants over the years in Peachland, and it’s pretty difficult to make a buck. People don’t go out just to drink anymore, they go out to eat, so you have to have a kitchen and kitchens have to break even, or even better, if they can in terms of their costs.”
Slowly but surely, the former counsellor (who no doubt used some of his skills during this process), eventually led the Legion to where it is today. Hewer was being paid $15 an hour for the job, but took a paycut so the Legion could meet its financial goals. Today, payables are way down, and in November, Hewer knew he had finished what he set out to do — the Legion was operating in the black.
“I think Legions are important, I mean this Legion has given over $200,000 to the community in the past six years. That’s a lot of money,” he says.
They’ve started 2019 with some new faces on their board, and Hewer says the fresh energy means good things for the Legion in the future.
“I think it’s going to be an excellent time for the Legion. Things are fixed up, there’s new staff, new executive taking hold of the place, and it’s being run much more like a business. That’s what they had to do.”
Legion president Jean Saul adds Hewer’s knowledge and input has been invaluable.
“There are many things that Barrie did in his tenure here at the Legion, both as an employee and a volunteer that kept us afloat. He supported the Legion’s aims and objectives, which is to support our veterans, their families and the community of Peachland as a whole,” she says.
“We thank him immensely for his service and wish him well in his future endeavours.”
On Friday, Legion members and other Peachlanders gathered to recognize Barrie’s work. There were appetizers, cake, coffee and tea. A short presentation was also planned. When asked if he’s comfortable being in the spotlight, his answer is simple:
“Not really,” he says.
“But I do want to say thank you to the people who are coming because they’re the people who supported the Legion.”
So what’s next?
First of all, a game of snooker, Hewer says — he’s still dedicated to being in the league that plays at the Legion.
“There’s also another person, another business in Peachland that’s asked me to take on a project, so I’m going to be working with them.”
So, it’s on to the next. All the best, Barrie, and Peachland is a little better because of your service.