What Happened To The 360?
My head is reeling. It's been over a month since The 360 Club slammed its doors on local bands, bartenders, faithful patrons and dedicated Ukrainian legion members. This forceful act by the Royal Canadian Legion is still an issue of heated debate. Was it over an image, a bank account or a prejudice?
CLUB 360 (an acronym for the Canadian Legion Ukrainian Branch) opened its doors in 1945 as a social club for Ukrainian war vets in commemoration of Filip Konowal, Canada's only Ukrainian Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, which is the British Empire's highest military distinction; but the legion had changed with the times in 1992, adding rock shows to entice a new crowd and a new source of capital. "Now that [Queen West] is this urbanized, metropolitan milieu, you can't expect it to function like your local Legion. It has to work differently," says Branch 360 spokesman Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk. Many legions in the States have grown in similar fashion, indirectly attracting youths to support a cause they wouldn't have otherwise considered.
Unfortunately, to others, the new youths were abrasive. "There was poor crowd control," Gordon Moore, president of the Ontario Command of the Legion stated. "Neighbouring businesses complained that the ordinary and usual clientele of the branch behaved badly and sometimes outside of the law and [therefore] poorly represented the values of the Legion," he added. While businesses may have complained, it's important to note that none of the legion's 80 members ever complained about the activities surrounding their club, barring one incident where a couple ignorant kids wore swastika-emblazoned attire to a punk show.
Was the crowd outside of The 360 really any worse than the crowds frequenting Queen West's Big Bop, Horseshoe Tavern or Bovine Sex Club?
While the shutdown came as a total shock to the 80 legion members, this was all old news to Moore and Royal Canadian Legion leaders. On May 15th at their Bicentennial Convention, Moore had said, "There's something wrong within The Royal Canadian Legion. I asked the Vets why and they pointed to what's happening within the branches - the complaints, the personality conflicts and how everything revolves around that. We need to go home and take a look at what we're doing within our branches, zones and districts. We have to be able to work with each other." Apparently there has been some inside discussion about the 360 Branch but their branch members were not invited.
In congruence, Dominion First Vice President Jack Frost wondered, "Are we here to look after our veterans, promote remembrance and make our communities and nation a better place? Or are we here to generate funds to maintain facilities that may have outlived their usefulness?" He went on to say how the successful branches were only doing well off "a source of revenue that cannot be maintained". He appeared fearful that the prosperity at 360 wouldn't last; however, there was a lot of talk about financial hardship and the ability for the rest of the branches to endure at this meeting.
"We have come to realize, after much soul searching and thought, that there is very little left to cut that would make much, if any, inroads into the financial well-being of this command," Earl Kish, President of the Command worried. "It would also seem that with the revenue from per capita still dropping and the interest from our investments staying low, we are at an impasse." The Command is up against a financial wall. What should they do? Perhaps if they seized the bank assets of the most profitable branch and dispersed the money to the other branches, then they could carry on.
Money Issues Pollute Everything
Dare I be so bold as to suggest money may have been a factor in the club's seemingly unlawful closure? Ok, I just did. Ask yourself this: Why did the Canadian Legion step in, in place of the police or the Ontario Liquor & Gaming Commission, to immediately seize the bank assets, change the locks and indefinitely close down the branch before a court order, before a trial, before a warning was even issued? Typically a club will face several written warnings and a temporary closure lasting from days to weeks in the event of a liquor license violation. You've seen this happen at just about every club downtown at one point or another. Allegedly, there was some sort of violation at The 360 last fall but no written warnings were issued and suspension did not occur until the Royal Canadian Legion barged in to shut everything down.
The fate of the valuable downtown property lies in question; gathering dust as the legal process sluggishly etches along. It's unclear whether the Legion plans to take over the operation without the club portion active and amalgamate forces with another branch (as was the case with many Ontario branches recently) or whether the venue can be re-licensed to another promoter as a nightclub. For now, Moore has utilized legion bylaws and provincial orders to suspend the branch's charter and lock the branch back under provincial command. Perhaps the final decision will give us a hint of the real motivations behind this move.
Jealousy: The Other Ugly Green Monster
To complicate this convoluted mess, there were issues of the Legion's commitments to the community. Legion business had traditionally been to "provide meals to the public, promote remembrance through youth programs, and provide a place for veterans to socialize". The Legion claims that Branch 360 has done little outside of club activities.
However, Branch 360 has erected five (soon to be six) plaques to honour Corporal Filip Konowal, published a book about Konowal, donated to seniors programs and provides the arts community with a free, clean and safe venue for bands to play and inexpensive drink prices.
Supporters of The 360 would argue that perhaps it's not the unruly patrons but rather the branch's success that's upsetting the Legion bureaucracy. Maybe they're stepping on some toes. Perhaps other branches are jealous that Branch 360 has put up so many plaques, donated so much money and managed to prosper off controversial sales from liquor - which was not even allowed in legions until a bylaw was passed six years ago. Or perhaps it's jealousy from neigbouring businesses (like Le Select Bistro) that see The 360's stellar patio, renovated sound system, clean interior, top-notch lighting, inexpensive drink prices and free rental for artists as a major threat.
Innocent Image Issues
Legion officials have argued that Branch 360 has not created a sports team or given a substantial enough financial contribution to the group as a whole. So perhaps the Royal Canadian Legion is simply trying to clean up its image and focus on the traditionally commemorative actions of their organization. "We are here to ensure the care and comfort of our veterans and their dependants, to keep the theme of remembrance alive, to ensure that the sacrifices that were made are never forgotten and to support our communities," Erl Kish said in a speech.
Ok, Erl, you're perfectly entitled to preserve an ideology. But why come down with an iron fist at this point just days before the much-anticipated NXNE (North By NorthEast Festival), forcing 17 acts to scramble for venues? And why do it without warning or legal precautions? These questions remain largely (and suspiciously) unanswered.
"I do not believe that Canadians approve of such bully boy tactics," Dr. Luciuk adamantly declares. He feels that the Royal Canadian Legion acted abruptly and on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. "Some apparently decided to muzzle us. That is unacceptable and unconscionable. I may not like that you have pink hair or a lip ring, but is it right of me to deny service to you? No!"
Rockers In Mourning
Aside from all the legalities, the impact of this closure is felt by the local rock community. "It's no surprise. The legion's always had problems with the rowdy punk rock crowd," one anonymous person suggested on an online message board.
"This is too bad because we really enjoyed our show there," says Jonny Dovercourt, Guitarist for Republic of Safety. "It was the best stage sound we've ever had and the venue had a fun vibe. Good times on the patio, too."
The Current State of Affairs
I wish I could provide you with some pertinent news as to when the proceedings will take place or as to the fate of this beloved building. But all I can say is that The 360 is pursuing legal recourse, in addition to an in-depth investigation of the claims being made against the club. I suspect this process to be a slow one, to say the least. For the moment we can at least digest what's happened in recent months and ask ourselves, "What hidden agendas are lurking here in Toronto? Is it possible for influential parties to skirt around the law of due process?" And finally, "What happened to The 360?"
Online Sources & More Information For The Nosey:
The Legion also has a pre-written memo entitled "Questions & Answers - Branch 360" that they're willing to mail out to the curious.
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