Racy Daze Programme
Rotary Club of Calgary, 1934
One hundred years ago, while the world was about to find out just how ugly war could be, a group of sixty four men met in the Elizabethan Room of the Hudson’s Bay Company to start an organization that would bring good to the city (and the rest of the world). The Calgary chapter of the Rotary Club was born under the leadership of James S. Ryan and Douglas Howland. They were the first men’s service club to be formed in the city.
Of course we all know about the Rotary Club, they are the people who give us dreams of luxury living with their Stampede Dream Home. More precisely, it is the Rotary Clubs of Calgary who offer us the dream home – there are now thirteen clubs in Calgary. Over the years they have done an amazing amount of good in Calgary. They are major contributors to my favourite organization, the Calgary Public Library, sponsoring It’s a Crime Not to Read, a brilliant program that partners Calgary Police Service volunteers with staff from the Library to promote reading and literacy among grade 2 and 3 students. The Rotary Club was also behind the refurbishment of the cupola from James Short School, providing funds and hunting down the clock from the demolished Burns Block to finally give it the timepiece it had been designed for.
Cupola from James Short School before the Restoration funded by the Rotary Club of Calgary
Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1258
To honour the years of service to the community, Mayor Nenshi has declared April 28 to May 3 to be Rotary Week. There will be Service Before Self displays at each of the 18 library branches as well as celebrations at City Hall on Thursday (bring your fork, there’s cake).
Until I started looking into this, I wasn’t aware of the extent of the Rotary Clubs’ charitable work. I had visited a few chapters to talk about genealogy and of course knew about the Dream Home, but I wasn’t aware that among some of their first projects were vacant lots gardening, lights along the Elbow River for skaters and tree planting campaigns. They did all kinds of wonderful things to help those in need, such as furnishing rooms for returning soldiers at the Ogden Home, hampers for the widows of soldiers, boots sent to needy people in Belgium, ambulance service during the ‘flu epidemic, a Boys Town, skates sent to Northern Metis communities and picnics and parties for seniors. They also threw a picnic for 14,000 family members of soldiers serving overseas in 1918. As part of the celebration they took 2000 feet of movies of the families to send to the soldiers. This is just a sample of the projects that this club has sponsored over the years. They still continue to be active worldwide providing operations to restore sight, polio vaccinations, clean water projects and micro-credit loans, just to name a few.
Early members included Dr. George Kerby, Frank Freeze, F.E. Osborne, Fred Shouldice, and James Fowler. Few records were kept of the early years but an interesting tidbit from the 50th Anniversary publication was that “it is believed that amongst other things, the Club donated a kangaroo to the zoo. (Tradition has it that the animal bit a Rotarian and died).”
To raise money the Rotarians put on entertainments, such as a Minstrel Show and Parade and, curiously, in 1924, a Potlatch in the hole left by the demolition of the first post office. They raised nearly $15, 000, an impressive sum even by today’s standards.
We have memorabilia from a number of these fundraisers in the Local History collection (including the programme of the “Sunset Revue: Racy Daze” of 1934, seen above) and a 1924 roster, including photographs.