Service clubs are a fundamental community foundation

Seventy-five years ago this week, the Little Current Lions Club was officially chartered and began seven and a half decades of service to the community by deciding to take on the responsibility for setting up and decorating a large Christmas tree in downtown Little Current.

This decision to organize a community Christmas tree, seemingly a small activity by 2013 standards, was nonetheless the very first act of service by Manitoulin Island’s very first service club.

The club had a seventy-fifth anniversary party last Saturday evening and while the event was more fun than anything else, with congratulations on reaching this landmark delivered from other clubs, MP Carol Hughes, Mayor Al MacNevin and many others, the club was modest about its accomplishments since that Christmas tree project all those years ago.

A few things leaked out, like how the club has been very involved in each of the community’s three successive hockey rinks over the years, including taking on the ownership of the original, privately owned indoor rink, just to keep it operating in the years following the Second World War.

There was also a reference to assistance the Little Current site of the Manitoulin Health Centre has received over the years, including cheques for $50,000 and for $30,000 for capital projects.

A former club member who could date his membership from the early 1950s reminisced about the dream of a community park at Low Island, set in motion by the Lions who initially acquired the property in the late 1960s. A current Lions Club member noted how this dream has been realized in partnership with the municipality and the park now includes a double soccer field for youth play, two baseball diamonds, Sisson skateboard park, a swimming beach and docks, a picnic area, beach volleyball courts, public washrooms and two years ago, the Little Current Lions Club and the Northeast Town cooperated to build a permanent pavilion to service events at the ball park.

Quite a list of accomplishments have stemmed from that dream of a community park nearly 50 years ago.

These are just a few examples of the club’s public accomplishments over years, but the smaller acts of generosity, the support for sports clubs, school activities, the Sea Cadet program currently and, previously, support for Cubs, Scouts, Guides and Brownies.

And so Little Current is rightly celebrating its service club.

But it is not unique on Manitoulin for there are Lions Clubs in Mindemoya (Central Manitoulin Lions), Manitowaning (Southeast Manitoulin Lions), Gore Bay/Western Manitoulin Lions and also the Spring Bay/Providence Bay Lions.

Each of these Lions Clubs, and the Gore Bay Rotary Club, has provided and continues to provide the same kind of services to its own community.

As a recent example, the Spring Bay/Providence Bay Lions Club took a lead role in the massive redevelopment of the children’s playground on the Providence Bay beach, creating an economic opportunity in the process by making the famous white sands of Providence Bay’s long beach an even more desirable place for family visits.

There is often, if not always, an aspect of economic development associated with service clubs for their fundraising endeavours are almost always associated with major community events which, in their own right, create direct economic activity.

Locally the examples are all around us: the Little Current Lions Club’s Haweater Weekend in the summer and Winterfest in the winter, the Central Manitoulin Lions Club’s Homecoming Weekend every Canada Day Weekend in Mindemoya, the Southeast Manitoulin Lions Club’s Summerfest Weekend in July, the Gore Bay/Western Manitoulin Lions Club’s Summerfest Weekend, also in July, and then the club’s joint event with local Lions branch and Rotary Club two weeks later: Harbour Days. In Providence Bay, the Spring Bay/Providence Bay’s annual corn roast has quickly become that town’s annual family activity.

There is a pattern here because in each case, in all of these communities, the service club’s major fundraising activity has become that community’s annual ‘Big Weekend’ and focus for community fun.

Service clubs, like the one that is turning 75 this week and all of the others, are win-win for their host communities. They raise money and then give it away to enhance and improve their communities and also create major community festivals in the process of fundraising.

Congratulations to the Little Current Lions Club, and also to all of the other Manitoulin Island service clubs. It’s clear that every community fortunate enough to have a service club (or more than one, as is the case in Gore Bay) is very fortunate.