A house divided

Former Legion centre of Maccan dispute

Eric Sparling esparling@amherstdaily.com
Published on September 17, 2012

Rick Dwyer (from left), Shelley LeBlanc, Dave Stiles, Linda Stiles and Earl Hoeg gathered at the Maccan Community Centre recently. Their main concern was the way property from the hall was distributed after the Legion branch closed. 

Eric Sparling – Amherst Daily News

MACCAN – A conflict has been brewing in Maccan.

Donald White, former secretary-treasurer of the now-defunct Legion branch in the community, just wants to sell his house, pull up stakes, and leave the area he’s called home for decades.

“Nobody stole nothing,” he said over the phone.

At issue is the contents of the community centre that was home to the Legion Branch. The new executive of the community centre, which took over after the Legion’s departure, wants to know why property that was in the building is gone: a ride-on mower, kitchen equipment, a meat slicer, coolers, and other items, including a bingo machine.

A bingo machine – life’s blood to a community centre low on funds and looking to raise money.

Some critics have alleged the property, almost all of it (apparently) accumulated while the Legion were tenants, was distributed to friends, family and acquaintances of the branch’s executive once the Legion shut down.

“Not a chance,” said White.

The man is baffled by the controversy. He said the executive followed the instructions of Nova Scotia Command, and the hall was left exactly as it was when they first took occupancy. He said he wasn’t aware of any interest in taking over the hall – using it as a community centre again – so articles were given to those who could use them, among them not-for-profit organizations, such as the River Hebert Legion, the Knights of Columbus and the Nappan United Church.

White is anticipating some donations from the recipients of the hall’s contents – money he said will go into an account to maintain the Maccan cenotaph. No donations have been made yet, according to White, and the account still has to be set up.

“I got nothing to hide,” he said.

The secretary-treasurer of the community centre’s recently elected executive – which came in after the Legion’s departure – is Linda Stiles.

“We’re not trying to accuse the Legion or anybody else – we just want answers,” said Stiles.

It’s her belief at least some of the property that was given away predated the tenancy of the Legion. And the new board of the centre seem to feel the goods accumulated during the Legion’s tenure in Maccan should have been offered to the community of Maccan first: it was the community that attended events, played bingo and spent money; their cash went into Legion coffers, from which the property was purchased.

There’s history to the conflict, too. These factions have disagreed before. The Legion was at the centre of a dispute in the past over advocacy of medical marijuana. Stiles said it’s fair to say there are hard feelings that predate the current conflict.

The secretary-treasurer said the plans to disperse the centre’s contents weren’t publicized. People would have spoken up if they had been. A few people made the decision for everybody, according to Stiles.

“This is where the problem is,” she said.

Legion District Commander Gary Higgins was reluctant to discuss the issue at all. He’d already had phone conversations – one of them heated – with Rick Dwyer, the president of the new community centre executive. Nova Scotia Command has no interest in being drawn into the conflict.

“We’re out of it,” he said.

Procedures were followed, he claimed. The plan to shut down the branch was publicized.

“Where were all these people…?” he asked rhetorically.

Bill Kohout was the first president of the branch. His name came up when critics of the Legion talked about the people involved in the distribution of the centre’s contents.

“I don’t know who took what…and that was really none of my concern,” said Kohout.

The former president said Higgins asked White to call him (Kohout), and ask him to come to the Legion when they were shutting things down. Kohout claims Higgins asked him if the Nappan church needed some things, and that Higgins said the leftover property could be given away to those who needed it, perhaps for a donation.

The narrative described by former legion executive members was that Nova Scotia Command washed its hands of the contents – items they seemed to believe were Legion property – and invited the handful of left over, former members to pass the goods along to others. Donald White said he was worried the building might be sold with the contents left inside.

Bill Fairbanks, a lawyer in Amherst, was asked to weigh-in on a hypothetical scenario involving a legion branch in ‘Cape Breton’ closing, and a dispute about the property that remained. He said the people from the community don’t have a legal claim to the property accumulated by the Legion while it was a tenant in the building. But he also said, when an organization like a Legion branch closes, the remaining goods don’t just default to former members.

The impression Fairbanks gave was that a formal transferal of ownership probably should have transpired between Nova Scotia Command (he thinks it’s likely the Legion has rules governing the process) and the men who gave away the property.

Still remaining of course, is the question of property given away that the centre’s new executive claim was theirs before the Legion took occupancy.

A public meeting is being held at the hall the evening of Sept. 19.