First Rotary Club of Each Country



Brief histories of the first clubs of each geographic region

Rotary Club of St. John's, the First Club of Newfoundland

Rotary International District 7820

The Rotary Club of St. John's is a member of Rotary International District 7820, which incorporates 46 clubs in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the Magdellan Islands, St. Pierre Miquelon and Newfoundland & Labrador (the youngest, Rotary Club of Stratford, PEI, was chartered on June 19th, 2002). It is one of over 31,500 clubs in 166 countries, containing close to 1.2 million Rotarians. Also making up the Rotary World are nearly 22,000 Rotaract and Interact ( Youth) Clubs and Rotary Community Corps.

The Rotary Club of St. John's was founded in November 1921, as the first community service club in Newfoundland, sponsored by The Rotary Club of Halifax. There were 24 Charter Members with Harry Cowan as the first President.

In its early life, the Club met at a local restaurant but soon after, began meeting at Hotel Newfoundland, a tradition that continues to this day. The Club currently has approximately 145 regular members and 8 honorary members. Its system of Fireside Groups is unique to the Rotary World. There are currently eleven such groups, the first of which, the Originals, was formed in 1926. The youngest group, the Lancers, began in 1994. Each group holds monthly fireside meetings and carries out important work in the community annually. The fundraising activities of the combined groups and the Club in recent years have resulted in approximately $130,000 being spent annually on Rotary projects.

Throughout the years, the Club has completed a long list of significant projects in all four avenues of Rotary service - Club, Community, Vocational and International. Following is a representative list:

One of the prime target groups identified for assistance when the Club was formed in 1921 was under-privileged boys and assistance to needy children and youth remains a high priority today - locally and internationally.
In 1931, the Club established the Christmas Hamper Project and for many years, Rotarians filled and delivered hampers to needy families; the project continues today in partnership with the Salvation Army, the School Lunch Association and the St. John's Community Food Sharing Association.

In 1936, Governor Walwyn laid the cornerstone for the Rotary Sunshine Park at Hogan's Pond. For many years to follow, the Club raised the funds and members and groups made in-kind contributions to develop the park for the use of handicapped and underprivileged children. In 1971, during the Club's Golden Anniversary, the Park was turned over to the City of St. John's to administer. Today, the park continues to be improved in partnership with City Council.

In 1937, the Club started an annual Radio Auction to raise funds for the Sunshine Park and its many other community service projects; it was a popular event well into the 1980's, was held as a television event for two years and continues currently as the Spring (live and silent) Auction at Hotel Newfoundland.

In 1944, the members were instrumental in establishing the Newfoundland Chapter of the Tuberculosis Association and in 1951, the first Newfoundland Branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

In the late 1950s, the Club assisted with the establishment of the CNIB Army Cadet Corps 2515, the first of its kind in the country. The Corps is still supported by the Stokers Group. During its history, the Club has sponsored numerous other youth organizations - army, sea and air cadet corps, boys and girls clubs, etc.

In the 1960s, the Club established the Rehabilitation Council and the Mental Health Association of Newfoundland.

In the 1980s, the Club raised funds for the acquisition of an emergency response vehicle for the General Hospital and established the Lifeline Emergency Alert project for senior citizens and the Emergency Alert Foundation. This vital service now extends across the province and serves over 400 clients.

In 1992, the Club undertook an ambitious fundraising project and, combined with in-kind contributions, established the Iris Kirby House in St. John's, a shelter and resource centre for female victims of family violence.

In 1997-98, in partnership with other Clubs in the region, we raised the funds to purchase a Cavitron Aspirator, a vital brain surgery tool, for the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.

A major project, which began in 1999, raised $50,000 in funds and in-kind support to help establish an Autism Resource Centre for Newfoundland and Labrador.

From 2000, the Club has raised funds and in kind support for the Junior Achievement Economic of Staying in School Program and other community-oriented groups.

The Major Club Project for 2002-03 was to refurbish/renovate Access House, a transition house for outpatients.

Rainbow Riders Rotary Riding Ring was the focus in the past few years. In 2003, the Club raised $50,000 to construct an indoor riding stable for the Rainbow Riders. This volunteer group provides ponies and counselors to special needs children so that they may avail of the therapeutic benefits of horse back riding. Construction of this facility is in progress.

For the current Rotary year (2003-04), the Club has taken on a fundraising project to supply a van to the Brighter Futures Coalition. This is a new non-profit organization dedicated to assisting single expectant mothers in need by providing them with the resources to utilize medical and other advisory services.

Youth-oriented projects include working with Junior Achievement of Newfoundland and Labrador on a school program called "The Economics of Staying in School". Our Club has also established a Rotary youth club (Interact), headquartered in a local high school.

The Rotary Club of St. John's is also actively involved internationally.

- Rotary Youth Student Exchange

- Group Study Exchange

- Dominica Eye Project: This project began in 1997, through Club member Dr. John McNicholas, who is helping to detect and treat Glaucoma, a common cause of blindness in that country. During his visits, with colleague Ed Doherty, John performs operations with the local Ophthalmologist, holds public clinics and arranges for vital medical supplies with leading drug companies.

- Canadian Relief Fund for Chernobyl Victims in Belarus: In 1998 and 1999, we helped 36 Belarus child victims of the Chernobyl disaster to make a health restoring visit to Newfoundland and Labrador.

- RI's PolioPlus Eradication Project was a major focus for our Club over the past year, and as a result of tremendous support received from Rotarians in our Club, the PolioPlus Eradication Fund will receive an estimated $40,000 from our Club.

Over the years, the Club has supplied 6 District Governors and awarded over 100 Paul Harris Fellows to members and other deserving community leaders. Another Club member - Past President Dennis Knight - has been named the District Governor Nominee-Designate for the 2006-07 Rotary year.

It is a privilege to serve the local and global community under the Rotary banner and we look forward to continuing to do so in the years ahead.

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