It was not an auspicious beginning - in September 1936. Two weeks after the club’s first organizational meeting, at which 22 members signed up to honour our motto “We Serve”, we ran our first project, where we operated a fishpond at the Agricultural Society Fall Fair & Midway.
A few dollars were raised and we considered ourselves “In Business” as a service club. We were one of 17 Lions Clubs in Ontario and held our Charter on November 18, 1936. From that small beginning, our “Gang” launched into years of dedication to our communities betterment, in such endeavours as assistance to the Tuberculosis Association and the sale of TB seals and Patch Test Clinics. We helped the CNIB with the provision of eye test examinations in all the schools and purchased eye glasses for needy children. Community projects in those early years included uniforms for the Sault Concert Band, XRay equipment for the Health Clinic and a campaign to light and improve Queen Elizabeth Athletic Field.
Major fund-raisers to help finance these programs came from the Winter Carnival, Harness Racing, Water Follies, Light Bulb and White Elephant Sales, along with the sponsorship of booths for travelling Midways.
Through the arduous efforts of all club members in turning the old Gouin Street Arena into a colourful showplace, we were able to assist the fledgling Sault Figure Skating Club, by bringing in some of Ontario’s “Headline” skaters, from clubs such as the Granite in Toronto, the Minto in Ottawa and many others from North Bay and Sudbury. These winter carnivals ran from 1938 to 1948 at which time the Memorial Gardens was built and most recently rebuilt as the Essar Centre.
During the seventies, eighties and early nineties our club ran weekly bingos and later several Monster Bingos to raise funds to support our community service. We also began a long-term partnership with the City of Sault Ste. Marie in 1985 to operate Pointe Des Chenes Campground. This has been and continues today, to be a vital part of our annual service income. Many Lions members, staff and campers along with valued support from our City Council, Parks Department and others have contributed a great deal to its success over the last 25 years.
How many years can one project continue to provide much needed funds for our activities, while insuring each customer gets value for the money they donate? The answer is our “Lions Rose Day”. It began in 1959 and 52 years later, it still does very well for our club revenues.
Our club has raised and donated in excess of $1,800.000.00 during the period 1972 to 2011 which regretfully is as far back as our financial records are on file. These donations included financial support to the following areas: Community Betterment, Drug Awareness Education & Crime Prevention, Health & Welfare, Hearing Awareness and Conservation, Diabetes Programs, Sight Conservation & Work with the Blind and activities for Youth.
The application, construction, and ongoing maintenance of “Lions Place” Non Profit Housing for Seniors has and continues to live on as a “Hallmark” of the Sault Ste. Marie Lions Club. It has taken it’s place as the largest, most ambitious service project we have ever undertaken. We are forever indebted to the many Lions from our Club for its completion and ongoing administration. We wish to also recognize our present and former staff, for their efforts to maintain it as one of the best in our City.
Most Lions clubs are fortunate if they can continue to attract new members and we have always counted on our current and new members to take responsibility in the club and provide the leadership we need to realize our goals, but for many years we enjoyed an extra benefit provided by our ladies organizations. We could not be anything but successful without the many hours of service donated by the Sault Ste. Marie Lionette and Sault Ste. Marie Lioness Clubs. We owe our eternal gratitude to each of you for your efforts on our behalf.
Club delegates have attended most District, Multiple District and International Conventions, along with attendance at several Canada USA Lions Forums. We have hosted seven District A5 Conventions and two Multiple District “A” Conventions, the first in 1967 and the most recent in 1997, which saw 1200 delegates in attendance. We have expanded Lionism through the sponsorship of new Lion’s clubs in Thessalon, Bruce Mines, Wawa, St. Joseph Island and Goulais River. We also sponsored the Sault Ste. Marie Lioness Club.
Seven of our members served in the highest office of our District as it’s Governor and we will do our best to elect our eighth with your support next spring. PDG Lion John Curran also served as Chairman of the Governor’s Council of MD “A”. Most recently, we have partnered with the Retired Teachers Association of Algoma to provide Vision Screening for young children attending primary schools, from both area School Boards. We have launched our new club website and are excited about it’s importance as we look to the future.
We have always benefitted from a close relationship with the Lions from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and surrounding clubs. It is an association in which we have particular pride, as it reinforces the “International” part of our great association and offers a rare experience to all members from both sides of our border to realize common goals and social opportunities. We currently have partnered with the Sault Michigan Lions Club to erect a monument which will display a plaque emphasising the close ties between our two countries and our Lions Organization.
We are fortunate to enjoy the contributions of both men and women in our Lions club today and its current membership of 54 continues to do our best to honour our proud and distinguished past, while insuring our future is bright with enthusiasm and success. I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Past District Governor Lion John Curran and Lion Frank McKay, both Charter members of our club, who provided some of the history written in this article from our 50th anniversary in 1986. I was fortunate to meet both of these great Lions and enjoy the memories they conveyed to myself and others from the early years of our Lions Club.Written by: Lion Ron Anderson