A Brief History

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Under the aegis of Past President Dick Baker (1985-1986) a formal committee was struck to complete a Club history. With the help of a government grant, the services of Paul Kirby, a Loyalist College journalism student were retained for the summer of 1986 to take on this project. The editorial committee included Dr. J.G.Demeza, R.A. Johnston, W.R. MacKay, Jim Marker, and Linton Read. Thanks also to Bob McKnight who helped fill in more recent material.
- Rotarian Arie Korteweg



 

The Launch

Rotary in Belleville was born in 1920. The First World War had only recently ended and the government had the serious problem of paying for the cost of the war. Government borrowings in those days were by means of a series of "Victory Loans."

Strangely enough, it was as an indirect result of these Victory Loans that the Rotary Club of Belleville was started. The Victory Loan Campaigns were organized on an area basis, and Norman Tovell, a very active member of the Rotary Club of Toronto, was in charge of the Belleville area. His frequent visits to Belleville brought him in contact with leading business and professional men of the city. It also generated friendships, which eventually led to the suggestion that a Rotary Club be formed in Belleville. Thus, the Rotary Club of Belleville had its beginnings as the first Rotary Club in Eastern Ontario and was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Toronto.

The Rotary Club of Belleville received its Charter (dated April 1, 1920) on Saturday, April 3, 1920. It was identified as Club 645 in District 4. We are now in District 7070. The Club's sponsor was represented by 22 members of the Rotary Club of Toronto, who travelled to Belleville by private railway car for this express purpose. They were entertained with motor car trips around the city, a reception at the Belleville Club, and the Charter Dinner and Banquet at the Hotel Quinte.



 

Founding Members

The Charter members were Gordon Moffatt, E.Gus Porter Q.C. (first president of the Club), Sandy Burrows, Billy Doyle, Billy Deacon, Bill Schuster, Veena Hymen, Jimmie Bone, Harry Ackerman, Fred Smith, Vince Doyle, Billy Adams, Stan Carman, Phay Wills, Perce Allen, Bill McCreary, Oswald Scott, Mackenzie Robertson, Jim Jenkins, Mose Clarke, Lorne Marsh, Charles Reid, Billy Hume, and Dr. Bob Tennent.

W.B. Deacon acted as Chairman of the dinner meeting and immediately became referred to as "Chairman Bill." Billy Doyle acted as Secretary. Mayor Riggs extended the Freedom of the City to the visitors and presented a golden key as its symbol. Jimmie Bone extended greetings as President of the Chamber of Commerce. The main address was given by Harry Stanton in his capacity as President of the Rotary Club of Toronto and District Governor. Thanks to the speakers was tendered by Bill Deacon.



 

Crippled Children a Priority

Through most of its history, a principal activity of the Club has been the assistance to crippled children, first in co-operation with the Hospital for Sick Children, and then in support of the founding of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children. For years the late Charlie Symons, Jack McFee, Dr. Jack Guthridge and Dr. Van Blakslee promoted this cause. Fund-raising for crippled children has been a major Club activity.



 

Fund-Raising Fun

During the winters of 1926 and 1927 a large segment of the Toronto Skating Club was brought to Belleville to put on a carnival for raising funds. Private rail cars bringing the performers were spotted on the old Pinnacle Street siding opposite the Hotel Quinte for their convenience.

Later, during the 1920's and 1930's, the main vehicle for fund-raising was a series of minstrel shows. For several nights each year large audiences attended these shows in the old Griffin Theatre at the southwest corner of East Bridge and Church Streets. Some of the Club members participating in these shows were Leo Riggs, the Club's official pianist (who had for many years previously been musical director and organist at the Hotel Astor in New York City), Harry Moorman, general manager of these shows; Reginald Hinchet, musical director and conductor; Sandy Burrows, the club's song leader; Al Stillman, baritone; Charlie Spalding, Charlie Dolan and Jimmie Bone, comedians and funny men of the shows; and Bill Finkle, a boy soprano.

Just before the Second World War, a speedboat regatta was staged for a couple of years at Massasauga Point on the Bay of Quinte to raise funds for club projects. These regattas were authorized and approved by the American Power Boat Association and attracted some of the best racing drivers in North America, including the then-famous Pops Cooper.

The District Conference in 1924 was held in Buffalo, New York, and the program included a "Belleville Night." The "Radio Four" provided part of the musical program and it was carried over radio station WGR Buffalo. The "Radio Four" was a male quartet, consisting of Dr. Haffner, Arnold Thompson, and Rotarians Harry Moorman and Al Stillman, with accompanist Leo Riggs. Colonel W.N. Ponton was the principal speaker at the conference. Mr. Knight MacGregor , a former Bellevillian who had made a great musical success in New York, was soloist for the occasion.

The gong, which is used at all Club meetings to keep order, was presented to the Rotary Club at Belleville on that occasion. The inscription reads, "Won by Belleville, 27th District Conference Rotary International, Buffalo, April 8th and 9th, 1924 - First Prize for attendance. The Radio Four remained intact for some years and were always identified with the Rotary Club of Belleville.



 

World War II

The Second World War had a negative impact on Club membership. Some members asked for and received a leave of absence. Others simply left the club. It was not until after the war that club membership and outreach activities picked up again.



 

Camp Merrywood

As part of its service to crippled children the Club has continuously supported Camp Merrywood-on-the-Rideau since its founding in 1949 by the Ontario Society for Crippled Children.

Beginning in 1980, members of the Club have spent a working weekend at the camp, painting, renovating, restoring, installing an alarm system, as well as providing special funds towards maintenance and rebuilding. For many years past and present Glynn Reynolds (member since 1959, Club President 1973-1974) has spearheaded these annual weekends donating countless hours and personal financial resources to this cause.



 

Science Fair

The Science Fair began in Belleville in 1960 and the following year in 1961 the Rotary Club began its sponsorship. In 1965 a hobby show was added held at the Belleville Armouries. Top entries were selected to participate in the Canada-wide Science Fair. Over the years many entries from Belleville have won national recognition. This Club project continued until 1979.



 

Music Festival

In 1969 the Belleville Rotary Club inaugurated a Music Festival as a service to encourage participation and excellence in music in the Quinte area. From 1978 to 1984 a Dance Festival was added. The Music Festival has continued to grow and attracts as many as 650 entrants annually.

It now includes co-operative participation by the Rotary Clubs of Belleville, Picton, Trenton, Stirling and Quinte Sun Rise.



 

Youth Exchange

January 1972 saw the beginnings of the annual Youth Exchange Program in our District with the arrival of two students from South Africa. In recent years Rotarian Ron Carter has coordinated these visits. Many previous student participants have returned to express appreciation to their host families and to the Belleville Rotary Club. Also in 1972 the Rotary Skate-a-thon began to raise funds for local sports organizations and other volunteer groups. Outbound students include Erin Pleizer to Wanganui, North Island, New Zealand (August 2000 - July 2001) and Sara Nicholson to Kungsbaccka, Sweden (August 2000 - July 2001). Inbound students include Shontelle Norris from Papakura, New Zealand in the Deaf Exchange Program (January 2000 - December 2000) and Hitomi Kiryu from Kanagawa-ken, Japan, (August 2000 - July 2001).



 

Interact Club and Camp Enterprise for High School Students

In 1973, an Interact Club for high school students interested in service work was established at Centennial Secondary School and continued until 1981. Junior Achievement in Belleville began the same year, under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club for its first three years of existence. The challenge then was taken up by local industry. In 1985 Camp Enterprise was begun as a club project. Its purpose was to expose, to explore, to challenge, to arouse interest, and to spur students' imaginations on the subject of business and private enterprise. It continues to this day.



 

Group Study Exchange Program

In 1977, Dr. Bob Burns was the leader of the Group Study Exchange from District 707 to Israel. Two local young people have been accepted as Rotary Foundation Scholars to study abroad for a year, under the auspices of the Rotary Foundation. Jane Douglas studied Art Restoration in Florence, Italy and Joanne Willment studied Special Education at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.



 

District Conferences in Belleville

Belleville celebrated its centennial in 1978 and the Rotary Club responded with a flurry of club activity as well. Co-incidentally, W.Jack Davis, a former native of Belleville then living in Bermuda, was International Rotary President for 1977-1978. Bill Mackay Sr. was District Governor that same year and so District Conference was held in Belleville. Speakers included President Jack Davis, Senator Eugene Forsey (Constitutional Historian), and Jean De Grandpre (President of Bell Canada). The Governor's Banquet and Ball hosted 850 people at the newly opened Quinte Sports Centre.

Also in 1978 the Belleville Rotary Club provided funds to install the electric lighting in a sports park at the west end of the city, thus, it was named Rotary Park.

The District Conference returns to Belleville in 2003 with the installation of Bill MacKay Sr.'s son, Bill Jr. as District Governor.



 

Caribbean Assistance

A major activity of the Club throughout the 1970's and 1980's was a series of International Service projects to assist the disadvantaged in the Caribbean. Spearheaded by Rotarian Bob Michaud, these projects involved the participation of several Caribbean Rotary Clubs as well as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Rotary Foundation, Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, the teacher Education Centre there and the Ministry of Education of Ontario.

It all began when Bob Michaud Sr. delivered a cheque from our club to the mental hospital in the Barbados as our support to the efforts of the Rotary Club of Smiths Falls. Next came our involvement in providing a new Cheshire Home in the Barbados. Then at the suggestion of a CIDA official in an address to our club, we began helping Caribbean schools for the deaf.

Over a period of 15 years we have provided school supplies, books equipment individual and classroom hearing aids and training of teachers for schools of the deaf in Barbados, St.Lucia, Jamaica, St.Vincent, Bequia, and Grenada. Eight teachers from six islands received training to teach the deaf over this period; five of them for a year at the Teacher Education Centre in Belleville.



 

Quinte Exhibition

Since 1984 the Club has taken on staffing of the ticket booths at all entrances to the annual Quinte Exhibition. Proceeds are used for a variety of club activities.



 

Environmental Initiative

On the environmental front, the Club in 1995 took on the Treescape Project along the Keegan Parkway in partnership with Belleville's Parks and Recreation Department. For a contribution a tree is planted as part of the environmental beautification of Belleville's waterfront. Rotarian Lillian Duffy, Chairperson of the Environmental Committee and Rotarian Doug Moses, Director of Parks and Rec for the City of Belleville played a major role in establishing this project.



 

Women on board

Women have always played an important role within Rotary especially as "Rotaryannes." However, in 1994 under the Club presidency of Ken Wheeler, active women membership within Rotary became a reality. The first three women to become members were Lillian Duffy, Pat Feasey and Anne Leverton. The Club currently has over 14 women members that represent approximately 10 per cent of the total active membership.



 

Looking Forward

Since the Club's 75th anniversary history was completed in 1995, other major events and projects deserve recognition and will be featured in future updates. Of particular note are the Rick Meagher Golf Tournament and the Rotary/Ramada/Cablevue 4 (now Cogeco) T.V. Auction. Both of these projects have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist handicapped children.

Belleville Rotarians can be proud of their heritage in our community. "Service Above Self" as practiced in the past acts as our guide to renewed efforts in the future