ROTARY CLUB OF VICTORIA
In early 1913, members of the Seattle and the Vancouver Rotary clubs brought the idea of Rotary to Victoria. They contacted Victoria lawyer Frank Higgins to promote the idea, canvassed local businessmen, and the idea of Rotary caught on very quickly. Within months the Rotary Club of Victoria was established as Club #90 – the 90th Rotary club in the world.
The inaugural banquet was held at the Empress Hotel on November 15, 1913 with Frank Higgins as President. Forty-one charter members attended. The first secretary was Boer War veteran Captain Tom Goodlake, who held this post for twenty years before serving a term as president. The Club met at the Empress Hotel for over 75 years before moving to the Princess Mary Restaurant. Meetings are currently held each Thursday noon at the Union Club at the corner of Gordon and Humboldt. Club presidents have included a number of Victoria mayors and several provincial cabinet members. Hockey legend Lester Patrick was president in 1921-22.
There are now 11 Rotary clubs in the Greater Victoria area from Oak Bay to Sidney and Saanich to Sooke with 600 members in total. Worldwide there are 34,242 clubs with over 1.2 million Rotarians.
The Victoria Club continues to be a driving force in making Greater Victoria a better place to live. Over the decades, the Club has been responsible for, or helped establish, a variety of community services and amenities. In 1947 it raised $15,000 to construct the tourism publicity bureau that is now Tourism Victoria. The Island Highway, the Crystal Gardens, Queen Alexandra Solarium, Willows Fair Ground, United Way Victoria, YMCA, Royal Roads College and University, Goodwill Enterprises and the Salvation Army are a few of the institutions that have been influenced or benefited materially through the effort and service of the members of the Victoria Rotary Club.
As Rotary International neared its 90th year, in the early 1990’s the Club formed the Rotary Club Victoria Housing Society to build Rotary House, a 41-unit apartment block for low-income families. Ten years later in 2005, the Centennial Year of Rotary International, the Victoria Rotary Club created the Rotary Centennial Welcome Garden at the Victoria ocean/cruise ship terminal. The garden plaza is a permanent gift to the city and welcomes thousands of visitors to the capital city.
In June 2011, the Club staged a performance of “Last Night of the Proms.” The performance included several dozen members of the Rotary Youth Choir, which had been a musical institution in Victoria for 22 years from 1950 to 1972. Former Rotary Choir Boy, and now world renowned opera tenor, Richard Margison, was a guest soloist and another alumnus of the Choir, David Foster, welcomed the audience in a video message.
In the 2004 – 2014 decade alone, the Club provided over a million dollars to a wide range of community groups and organizations touching every age group and social status. Support was provided to individuals, organized groups and society at large. Whether it was a child requiring special medical care or equipment not provided for by health services or an organization looking for seed money to get established, the Victoria Rotary Club was there to lend a hand. Recipients of Victoria Rotary Club assistance included Read Victoria, the CNIB, Victoria Riding for the Disabled, Victoria Police Victim’s Services, Esquimalt Neighbourhood House Assoc., Our Place Street Ministry, Victoria AIDS Resource & Community Service Society, Sooke Family Resource Centre, Fairfield Community Association, Vancouver Island Science Fair, Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society, The Prostate Centre, and the Mount St. Mary Foundation.
On the 15th of November, 2013 the Rotary Club of Victoria observed its Centennial with a Gala Dinner at the Victoria Union Club. The guest of honour and major speaker was Rick King, a Past-President of Rotary International. To celebrate the Club’s 100 year history of “Service above Self”, several initiatives had been undertaken during 2012 and 2013 as the Club’s “Project Centennial”, and over a quarter of a million dollars was disbursed into the greater Victoria community. Major beneficiaries included Rainbow Kitchen, Mustard Seed, the Cool Aid Society and Craigflower Elementary School. “Project Centennial” was most successful in achieving the Club’s objective of maximizing benefit to a broad spectrum of the less fortunate in the Victoria community – in particular the hungry, the homeless and the vulnerable. All funds disbursed by the Club were derived from fund-raisers and proceeds from the Club Foundation.
The Club’s generosity to the local community continued through 2014 with a major donation to Mustard Seed to enable the continuation of the lease of their refrigerated truck, expected to be paid out in full through Club donations in 2015.
Internationally, the Club has been involved in the worldwide initiative to eradicate polio through the Rotary International PolioPlus Project in concert with the World Health Organization; and through Operation Eyesight to restore the vision of sight-impaired people in third world countries, often victims of neglect or tropical diseases. As well, many Victoria youth have spent a year in a foreign country as Rotary Exchange Students demonstrating Canadian values internationally with an equal number of students from foreign countries spending a year in Victoria to experience the freedoms and privileges of our great land.
As well, the Club has been very active in establishing and implementing aid projects overseas. These were funded through Rotary matching grants as part of Rotary International‘s World Community Service. Over the past decade these projects have focused on providing clean water, sanitation and health services and education, particularly in Western Kenya.
Our story continues as we continue our ‘Service above Self’
[Updated: 2015-01-08 Murray Ramsbottom]