Digby East Fish and Game considers closing for good

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on August 8, 2014

The members of the Digby East Fish and Game have some big decisions to make.

The conservation and social club on Haines Lake, about 13 kilometres south of Digby, has been in operation for 54 years but members are wondering how much longer they can keep the doors open.

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Past President Obed Parker says the main problem is a lack of volunteers and people supporting the club.

“We are very short on volunteers, we only have a handful,” he said. “It’s very difficult to run a non-profit organization without volunteers.”

Parker says membership of the Digby East Fish and Game Association has dropped from a high around 700 in the 1980s down to 50 life members, 50 or 60 members of the gun club, a scattering of associate members.

The association has called a meeting for all members past and present for Sunday, Aug. 24 at 1 p.m. to discuss their future.

Past President Bob Bennett says the executive will lay out the exact financial and membership situation at the meeting and then start discussing options.

He says those include shutting down for good and passing the hall and property onto another not-for-profit organization; declaring bankruptcy and walking away; or closing in October just for the winter and reopening again in the spring.

The last few years the club has kept the hall open until New Years to get in their News Years dance, and also opened one day for a Valentine’s Day dance.

Bennett says the dances used to be the big fundraiser for the association but even those haven’t been as well attended as before.

“We’re out of the way and people don’t like to drive to dances anymore,” he said.

Bennett says the site is perfect for weddings and large parties with the big hall and dance floor, full kitchen facilities and bars; plus the lake setting and the wharf, which are often used for marriage ceremonies.

The club still makes some money from the members who camp on the site, plus the gun club and ATV club donate money for the use of the facility.

“We’ve tried everything to generate some funds and raise interest,” said Bennett. “We’ve lost our volunteer base and we see the writing on the wall.”

Bennett and Parker think less people are interested in hunting, fishing and conservation.

“Our mission was the flora and fauna of south western Nova Scotia,” said Bennett. “We worked hard to get the mainland Moose on the protected list, we worked to protect the Tobeatic for 40 years and that jewel is there now.”

Parker says, whatever the reason, young people have not joined.

“Look at me, I’m 86 years old,” he said. “Stan Comeau is 90, Stanley White, he’s 84 and it goes on and on and on – the membership is getting too old.

“People have lost interest. The younger generation hasn’t come to us.”

Dora and Hubert Warne leased the property on Haines Lake to the Digby East Fish and Game in March of 1960 for $1 for 99 years, and the original 30’ x 70’ clubhouse opened in 1962.

Bennett says if the club is forced to close down, the community will lose the public beach and public boat launch, the EMO comfort centre, the gun club, and one of the largest community centres in southwestern Nova Scotia for weddings and parties.

“And they’ll lose a 50-year-old organization that supported the community holding benefits for people in need, be it cancer or illness or burnt houses,” he said.

“I think of the hundreds of people who went to dances there for years and years and many of them met their future husbands and wives there.

“It would be sad for the community and the people who put in the thousands and thousands of volunteer hours to build the hall and the swimming area and to maintain it all these years.

“We don’t want to see it lost,” said Bennett. “We would love for it to be passed on to some worthy non-profit organization so that the hall can be useful to the community for another 50 years.”