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A Brief History of the

Rotary Club of Bracebridge

As taken from Rotary in Bracebridge, Fifty Years of Service above Self in our Town by Robert J. Boyer - 1986

 

The Club's First Years

                "The first Rotary Club in Muskoka was formed in 1934 at Huntsville, with Harmon E. Rice as charter president. Perhaps it was the friendship between Bracebridge Mayor Wilbert Richards and H. E. Rice and their association in organizations such as Muskoka Tourist Development Association, organized in 1935, which led Wilbert Richards to understand the benefit a community could gain through service work of a club like Rotary, in addition to promoting local fellowship with Rotary visitors.

                In any event, Huntsville Rotarians, such as H. E. Rice, Bert Horton and others, visited Bracebridge and secured the names of 21 businessmen willing to become Rotarians. This group had no other thought than that Wilbert Richards should be the first president.

                On the last Friday in October, 1936, the club began holding weekly meetings in the dining room of the Albion Hotel. There they made plans for their big charter night."

The Rotary Club of Bracebridge was chartered on December 4th, 1936 and began holdings weekly meetings at the Albion Hotel.

The Rotary Club of Bracebridge took on a number of projects and events in the early years including:

  • Rotary Fairs
  • Sold of War Bonds in 1943 they sold $270, 950 surpassing their objective of $260,000
  • Supported the Ontario Society for Crippled Children
  • Annual Easter Seals Campaign
  • Sent children to Blue Mountain Camp for crippled children
  • Sponsored the Boy Scouts
  • Sponsored an annual clinic for crippled children that took place at the Bracebridge Hospital
  • Held an annual Christmas party for crippled children at Santa's Village
  • Supported the Muskoka Children's Aid Society for many years (now known as Muskoka Family and Children's Services)
  • Pledged and exceeded $1000 annually for 10 years to help rebuild the arena after it was destroyed by fire in 1943.
  • Sponsored free skating as well as a Pee Wee team in the Minor Hockey League
  • Contributed $1000 towards the cost of a new refrigeration plant for arena ice
  • Contributed $5000 to the new entrance to the arena
  • Supported supervised swimming classes which led to a $30,000 contribution to help construct a public swimming pool
  • Provided books to update the library at Bracebridge Public School in 1947 and to the Macaulay Public School in 1974
  • Provided 2 bursaries annually to students at Muskoka Lakes Secondary School
  • Created a Student Guidance and Loan Fund for young people wishing to extend their education beyond the local secondary school in the late 1960's
  • Began participating in Rotary Student Exchange in 1974
  • Fostered children under the Foster Children program
  • Participated in Adventures in Citizenship in Ottawa
  • Contributed $10,000 in 1967 towards the building school building for the South Muskoka Association for the Mentally Retarded which was taken into the Muskoka Board of Education
  • Helped the Rotary Club of Tehran to help a health program in Iran to overcome leprosy
  • Sent books to Bombay, India for a library project
  • Replaced the street signs in Bracebridge in 1947
  • Setup blood donor clinics in the 1960's
  • Gave a total of $9500 to the new Bracebridge Memorial Hospital build throughout the 1960's
  • Built a working village in Dominican Republic under the watchful eye and help of the Sisters of the Gray Nuns.

It was for its initiative in taking over the care and management of the Annie Williams Memorial Recreational Park in 1971 that the Rotary Club of Bracebridge received the cherished recognition of a significant achievement award from Rotary International.

In 1980 the Rotary Club of Bracebridge observed the 75th anniversary of the Rotary movement by presenting to the Town of Bracebridge the Woodchester property in restored form. The house was built in 1882 and the first church building in Bracebridge was built on the property in 1867.

In June 1978, Rotary decided to make a conditional offer to buy the Woodchester property. The conditions were to include approval of the restoration project by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, the acceptance of a  $32,500 grant from a member of the Bird family, and the successful arranging of financing.

The committee of Rotarians named to oversee the Woodchester restoration was: Kenneth Black, high school principal; Eric Booth, P. Eng.; Gilbert  Scott, merchant and John McRae, Treasurer of the District of Muskoka. Later when Mr. Booth moved from Bracebridge his place was taken by Jerrold Brooks, merchant and electrician, who gave a great deal of the time in overseeing the construction work. The commitment of Rotary by now totalled over $200,000, of which it was expected that government grants and donations from corporations and the general public would help the cause, leaving a manageable amount to be raised by the club itself. Total costs up to May 1980, had, been $286,000. Government grants totalled $160,000. The Bird family donation was increased to $45,000.

On March 13, 1980, the Rotary Club of Bracebridge turned over the keys to the Woodchester property to the Mayor of Bracebridge, Jim Lang.

For the first 25 years the Bracebridge Rotary weekly meetings were in the dining room of the Albion Hotel except for the annual change of officers meeting at the end of June. The Change of Officer's nights were held for many years at Dr. Bastedo's summer house on Lake Muskoka, then Milford Manor and then at Bangor Lodge.

In 1963 the meeting place was changed to Holiday House (now Inn at the Falls) and then to Muskoka Riverside Inn in October 1986.  In 1991, the Club opened the Rotary Centre for Youth and have held their weekly meetings there since that time.

Fund Raising Events:

  • Rotary Fairs
  • 50/50 draws
  • Muskokafest (with Kinsmen & Lions clubs)
  • Dances at the Bracebridge Memorial Community Centre in 1978-79
  • Christmas tree sales starting in 1979
  • Vegas Night started in 1983
  • Rotary Stage Shows every winter

International Projects

  • Partnered with a Rotary District in India to restore villages in Southern India which had been devastated by heavy cyclones
  • Bracebridge Rotary contributed $15,000, $15,00 from 3-H(Health, Hunger and Humanity) Fund and a further $75,00 was contributed by C.I.D.A for financing development in Cochin, India

Special thanks go to the family of Robert J. Boyer, a member of one of the Bracebridge's oldest families for permission to include excerpts from Robert J. Boyer's book A Good Town Grew Here which is the definitive work on the history of Bracebridge from inception to World War I

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25 Years of Rotary Presidents 1987-2011

1987 Les Wilson - Rotarians – United in Service – Dedicated to Peace

Les Wilson became famous (or infamous) for his ability to arrange musical entertainment. One particular highlight was a performance by Kitty Wells which, as it turned out, failed to achieve the desired fund raising goal.  The photo below has three Presidents, Bob Jones, Paul Hammond and Les Wilson.

1988 Paul Hammond Put Life in Rotary – Your Life

Paul recalls the thrill of the International Convention as a lead up-that was held in Philadelphia-and the excitement of the World Polio Plus Program. The Bracebridge Club had been assigned to raise $35,000 for this project over 3 years when in fact it raised $45,000 in a 12 month period- quite a feat!  At our club we enjoyed a host of good speakers such asMichael Wilson, Federal Finance Minister, Monte Kwinter, Provincial Minister of Industry and Trade, also China's Consul General was in Toronto and visited our club one Friday.  We were able to hold a successful elimination draw for a new home, selling all 2000 of the $100 tickets. We had a large fun-filled boat cruise in the summer, The District Conference was at Fenelon Falls and there was a good group of us who not only attended but entertained at breakfast complete with costumes and our own piano that we brought with us from Bracebridge. There was a very colourful District Governor in Tom DeGeer. A GSE team of Aussies visited in the fall and we have good memories of them. Elaine Young was named Citizen of the Year. A bunch of us were involved in `Snowarama`. Paul was overwhelmed to receive his first Paul Harris Award and is proud to be part of the 75 year history.

1989 Bob Jones Enjoy Rotary!

Bob joined the Rotary Club of Bracebridge in 1980. A highlight of Bob’s Rotary career was the Rotary Centre for Youth project which was officially announced in July during his year, two years after negotiations with the Town commenced. The Ministry of Tourism approved a $200,000 grant for the project and construction started in the Spring of 1990.  During Bob’s year the Club hosted a GSE team from India, Colin McDougald was named 1989 ‘Citizen of the Year’ and the major fundraiser was the “Dream Home” Draw.  For the Dream Home, the club participated and supervised the construction of the house as well as selling out with ticket sales.  The Club received two awards  - the ‘Presidential Citation’ from Rotary International and the ‘Distinguished Club Citation’ from District 7010 both of which were earned as a result of the Rotary Centre For Youth project.  In addition during Bob’s year a new Club banner was developed through a design contest with the high school.

1990 George Irvine - Honor Rotary with Faith and Enthusiasm

During President George’s year, the Rotary Centre for Youth was constructed and was officially opened on June of 1991.   The new youth centre replaced the old Scout Hall which had seen better days. The “Super Odds Cash Lottery” was our major fundraiser for the year with prizes totaling $75,000. The Rotary International Convention was in Portland Oregon.  George remarked that one of things he remembers most was the quality of the Bracebridge Club and how members always get things done.

1991 Cliff Whitfield Look Beyond Yourself

Bracebridge was the second Rotary Club to which Cliff belonged - his first club was Guelph Rotary which he joined in 1962. He then went on to be a member of the Victoria Harbourside club (B.C.) and currently the Orillia Rotary Club. Cliff has been a Rotarian for 49 years. Cliff recalls being blessed wlth an outstanding Board of Directors which made his task as President both easy and enjoyable. Rotary International and our club in particular were still emphasizing the great need to support Polio Plus which required the energetic support of our entire membership to continue its successful trajectory. Another project was the production of the annual Rotary Musical. The successful production of the show required the energetic support of all members and they were always there to do what was necessary. The Musical was primarily a community service project which enabled us to showcase the vast performing arts talent we had in our community. The fact that we often ended with a small surplus enabled the club to assist additional community projects.

1992 John Morrison Real Happiness in Helping Others

During John’s year the grand prize in the “lucky 7’s Cash Lottery was $50,777 and was won by Jim Ratcliff. The interesting thing about this was that Jim Ratcliff also won the grand prize in the previous year’s draw. A prominent guest speaker that year was Frank Mahovlich, a six time Stanley Cup winner who played for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Earl Linn constructed the metal bench that still sits in front of the youth centre today.

1993 Larry Miller Believe In What You Do – Do What You Believe In.

It was a year of recovery from a deficit budget and Larry’s main objective was to Improve the club’s financial health by improving revenues and limiting spending. Larry recalls that the club seemed to run itself as so many members have areas of specific interest and they run their area with almost no input required. The theme of “Believe in what you do- Do what you believe in”, struck a chord with Larry as he had a strong urge to leave the club in better fiscal shape, and he believed that the team came through and the Club finished the year firmly on its feet. Larry remembers wanting to start and end each meeting on time and during the whole year only two speakers had breakaways, -Bruce Evans-always very interesting, and Premier Bob Rae, who also had to field many questions.  Larry is certain that Bob only showed up at the Club due to his friendship with his father, former Premier Frank Miller.  It was a year of much fellowship and fun, including an Algoma Railway Trip in Frank Miller’s coach.

1994 Basil Coote Be a Friend

Bracebridge hosted the District Convention in September of 1994 – the year that Sean Kelly was District Governor.  This was a very successful event with over 500 attendees and 40 youth exchange students.  The Club membership was at 85.  The Convention activities took place in a 9,000 square foot tent that was erected adjacent to the Rotary Youth Centre.  Speakers included Catherine Swift from the Independent Association of Business, Frank Findley – the Uranium man of Chalk River’s Atomic Energy Plant. A little known fact is that the logo for the Convention was designed by Dave Brouillette and it eventually was modified to become the District 7010 logo.

1995 Keith Montgomery Act with Integrity – Serve With Love – Work for Peace

Stephanie Boag from Australia was the Rotary Exchange Student and Reverend Jim Thompson was named Rotary Citizen of the Year. Firsts included the Rotary Musical (Sound of Music) moving to the Opera House in Gravenhurst and the start of the Gala on opening night. Paul Hammond of Muskoka Transport started painting his trailers highlighting aspects of Rotary service for all of North America to see. Most importantly, the Rotary Bursary Fund was created to help students pursue post secondary education with funds received from the Estate of Alvira Binks, a former teacher and a past recipient of the Rotary Citizen of the Year Award. 

1996 Art Cox Build the Future with Action and Vision

In Art’s year the Club sponsored the first Probus Club in Muskoka being the Probus Club of Bracebridge.  That club reached its 200 member capacity within the year and became the biggest Probus Club in Canada.  Since that time, three more clubs were established in Bracebridge alone to accommodate the rise in the retirement population in the Area. The Club celebrated its 60th anniversary in which we put on a Charter Night Celebration at the Rotary Centre for Youth.  Dan Brooks acted as Master of Ceremonies for the "trip down memory lane" which included Ken Cumming and Sid Martin playing the Honkie-Tonk piano.  Accolades were received from the Mayor, the Premier and the Prime Minister. The Club resurrected the sponsorship of a Recreation League Minor Hockey Team and Art represented the Club in a 6 kilometre run as part of the first cross-Canada fundraiser for the Para-Olympics called "Why Not".

1997 Don Smith Show Rotary Cares

Throughout its 75 years, the Rotary Club of Bracebridge has shown how much it cares by being a catalyst for countless projects and causes. In the 1997-98 Rotary year, the club demonstrated it cared by bringing the community together to provide much needed assistance to the residents of Drummondville, Quebec. They were victims of the ice storm of January 1998 that left Drummondville without power and basic supplies. Within 48 hours, a tractor-trailer full of supplies including food, water, generators, fuel and more was on its way to Quebec, delivered by a team of Bracebridge Rotarians.

1998 Bill Caughey Follow Your Rotary Dream

Bill joined Rotary in the spring of 1977, sponsored by Lyle Black. He became President a year early when the incoming President elect suddenly declined. It was a quick start to a busy year. The car raffle was a great success as we had a yellow beetle, 2nd generation VW as the main prize. Tickets sold well and a big profit was realized. In the fall a great debate was held to decide on a group of large flag poles to be erected outside the Rotary Centre for Youth. This was achieved by way of Larry Giaschi who negotiated with a Toronto businessman to acquire the poles. The flags still proudly fly outside the Centre. We set up a Rotary information center in the Rotary building but it sadly did not last as long as the flag poles. At the end of the year we were saddened by the sudden death of our District Governor Floyd Hill. He was a great friend to all the district presidents and a big help to us all. Finally Bill would like to acknowledge the tremendous help that Arthur Richardson (photo at right with Jean Polak), the Godfather of our Club, was to him. When he accepted the sudden elevation to president elect in the spring of 1998, Arthur came to Bill and said “we can do it”......and we did but only with his steady hand and sage advice throughout the year.

1999 Dan Wyjad Rotary 2000: Act with Consistency, Credibility, Continuity

Dan’s year was the lead up to the millennium and apart from worrying about what that meant, Dan felt that the one thing of significance was that we began planning for the start of a new club.  Dan headed up the committee that sponsored the Rotary Club of Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes. The new club was eventually chartered in April 2001 and has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. 

2000 Leon Braithwaite Create Awareness Take Action

The year 2000 – 2001 was the Millennium year.  Leon’s year was started with great pomp and circumstance as the Queen’s photo was piped into the meeting.  We chartered another Probus Club and an Interact Club was formed in Bracebridge.  Two memories I have are as follows. Frank Devlyn Rotary International President 2000 was the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. The second memory is that I was in a full leg cast for most of my year.

2001 Joy McCormack Mankind is our Business

Joy and Anne Marie Mathieu were our first female Rotarians, being inducted together on the same day.   As the first woman president of the Bracebridge Club (thanks to sponsor Sean Kelly) she enjoyed her year immensely. Joy believes all the other 100 Rotarians conspired to make her year a success.  To a Rotarian they all lived service above self and indeed did make “mankind their business”.  “I will always remember my year with great fondness”.  The ongoing humour throughout the year was a highlight, even the inadvertent obscene kind.  As a legacy, Joy initiated an annual report which is still a routine year end procedure.

2002 Jean Polak Sow the Seeds of Love

In this year we “sowed the seeds” of two significant long-term projects that grew into great success stories in the years that followed – the Rotary Centennial Gardens and the World Community Service project in Querétaro, Mexico.  Our club completed (one year early) our $150,000 pledge to the South Muskoka Hospital Foundation and almost reached the $25,000 mark towards the second initiative of the Polio Eradication Campaign.  We sponsored another active Interact Club (even though no international trip was offered that year)!  Club members hosted our exchange student from the Netherlands, Yul Zengerink, and the GSE team from eastern Africa.  We celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Rotary Annual Musical with a rousing production of Guys & Dolls.   District activities became great fellowship events as we made the long trek to a terrific District Conference in Rouyn-Noranda and had a large (and boisterous!) group attend PETS in North Bay.  The major fundraising draw run by Liam Cragg was a huge success, selling out almost completely (5922 tickets of the 6000 printed). 

2003 Liam Cragg Lend a Hand

Liam’s year involved lots of planning for the upcoming centennial celebration of Rotary. Our Centennial project, the Rotary Gardens, required special consideration. Liam was blessed to have Peter and Jan Rickard chairing this committee with enthusiasm and passion. Also of note was choosing a Rotary Club to ‘twin’ with. The Town of Bracebridge was trying to officially twin with Gol, Norway and discussions had stalled. Liam was able to call on Rotary International, the Zone Governor and the Norwegian District Governor to assist in bringing Bracebridge and Gol together, both on a Town and Rotary Club basis. It was an extremely interesting process. Sadly, Past District Governor, Sean Kelly passed away during Liam’s term.

2004 Ron Walton Celebrate Rotary

The club celebrated the Centennial of Rotary International with a party in February and the construction of the Rotary Gardens.  A bus load went to the International Conference in Chicago with refreshments on the ride keeping all in fine spirits. Long term commitments were made to supporting the Recreation Centre, hospital and theatre to make Bracebridge a better place to live. The international project in Queretaro, Mexico provided a home for mentally handicapped adults. Our membership soared to just shy of 100.

2005 Ike Kelneck Service Above Self

During Ike’s year he featured a Rotary Minute as part of the opening remarks for each meeting.  He also initiated having Committee Chairs sit at the head table with him and they routinely updated the Club on their Committee’s activities.  That year we learned one of Ike’s favourite words and attitude -  “positude”.   Ike has entertained us for many years with his piano playing and entertainment skills.  “Music is my life” says Ike who was a professional musician for many years and he is in charge of the musical portion of the Club’s Friday meetings. He generally is the one who starts off our meetings with Oh Canada and Rotary Grace as well as doing the sing-along at each meeting.  “My purpose is to keep the club happy”.

2006 Dave Brouillette Lead the Way

The year 2006-2007 was a transitional period in Rotary International.  RI had implemented a new Leadership Plan and it was up to all of the individual Clubs to conform to new procedures. This included a re-organization of the entire Committee structure as well as preparation of new Club By-Laws.  In addition, Dave – who joined Rotary in 1988 – finally got up the confidence to do his classification talk which apparently was a highlight of his year.  Dave was one of the many members sponsored by Sean Kelly. 

2007 Nancy Cox-Godfrey Rotary Shares

Nancy’s most memorable experience was receiving the Presidential Citation from the Rotary International President himself – Wilf Wilkinson.  The award was presented at the District Conference in Peterborough and Nancy was suitably dressed in a never to be forgotten gown. It was during her year that the Club accepted the challenge of taking over the Canada Day Fireworks show from the Kinsmen Club. The Bracebridge Rotary Club also took on the task of running monthly blood donor clinics. We were the fourth highest donor to the Rotary Foundation with contributions of $23,000.  Nancy hopes to “Share Rotary” with Rotarians and members of the Community for many years to come.

2008 Darcy Hammond Make Dreams Real

In the year 2008 – 2009  some of the more memorable highlights were the “first match” being lit as part of our clubs commitment  to the community to continue with the Canada Day fireworks celebrations in Bracebridge Bay Park.  As part of Our Centennial Celebration project,  we dedicated the Miller Pavillion in the Rotary Gardens.  The most memorable moment for Darcy was watching District Governor Tom Bennett hanging on for dear life while he raced across Gull Lake  with  Rotarian Brian Ferguson,  in Brian’s hand crafted jet boat.  Tom was a great District Governor, making Darcy’s year as President enjoyable.

2009 Richard Borland The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands

Once the afternoon blue sky replaced the torrential morning rain storm on Canada Day allowing a fantastic fireworks display, we knew a good Rotary year was on the way. The year included the official opening of the Coates Pavilion at the Rotary Centennial Gardens, fantastic costumes at the musical “Beauty & the Beast”, a terrific exchange student from Mexico (Adrianna Izquierdo Gaxiola), and unbelievable World Community Support to the survivors of a major earthquake in Haiti – not only did the Club give $10,000 but the community provided an additional $24,000 to the relief effort. This was also the year of the record snow storm – over 4 feet of snow shutdown Bracebridge and surrounding area but in true Rotary fashion, we still had enough members attend the club assembly to vote in next year’s Board. We finished off the year in style, holding Change of Officers Night on the Wenonah II.

2010 Margaret Walton Building Communities Bridging Continents

In 2010- 2011 the club started the year with a strong contingent attending the RI conference in Montreal. This was the 100th anniversary of Rotary in Canada. Inspired no doubt by the fun and fellowship of that experience, the club embarked on a strategic plan to chart the course for the next presidents. Fellowship was a focus for the year with the club focusing on community projects. It was the first year of the ball hockey tournament, the club purchased a therapeutic aqua bike for the Recreation centre and the Annie William Park committee submitted a successful bid for Let Them Be Kids funding for playground equipment. The musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, was a hit with even the men raving about it. 

2011 Linda Brouillette Reach Within to Embrace Humanity

The year started with a big BANG on a beautiful July 1 day and evening with an ever growing array of activities culminating with the best fireworks show ever!  The board was able to share the strategic plan goals developed in the previous year with the new committee chairs. The committees are working diligently to accomplish many of the goals this year.  In September, we donated funds and many members’ helping hands to the very successful fundraising campaign and build day for the Let Them be Kids playground in Annie Williams Park.  A team of 9 Bracebridge and 2 Gravenhurst Rotarians, partners and friends will spend 19 days partnering with Cambodian Rotarians, the Red Cross and school officials delivering over 800 bicycles to children in rural Cambodia so that they can attend far distant schools.  We will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of our club’s charter and the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Rotary Centre for Youth at our Charter Night on Dec 3.  We plan to hold a public open house at the Rotary Centre for Youth in Spring 2012 to further celebrate with the local community “who we are and what we do”.  As this is written, we still have 7 months of good works to come including participating in Rotary’s last push to eradicate polio from the world –
“We are this close”!