Rotary Club celebrates 100 years in Prince Albert

Rotary Club of Prince Albert president Joe Weinrich (left) and district governor Fred Wright of Rotary International District 5550, which represents all Rotary Clubs in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The Rotary Club wasted no time leaving their mark on the community of Prince Albert.

In August 1921, a little more than a year after forming, the club created a swimming area on the north shore of the North Saskatchewan River. Prior to their arrival, swimming in the North Saskatchewan typically resulted in “two or three drowning fatalities” every year, according to an article printed at the time. Most of them were children who got out of their depth and were swept away by the current.

Under the operation and supervision of the Rotary Club, more than 200 children were able to swim safely every day in the river. It was a successful start, and an early indicator of what was to come.

“Can you imagine, in this day and age, having two or three children drown every year, just for playing and trying to stay cool?” current Rotary Club president Joe Weinrich said as the club celebrated 100 years in Prince Albert on Saturday.

The story seems abnormal by today’s standards, but throughout its history the Rotary Club has been anything but normal.

That’s especially true of their beginnings. It involved Ben Chappell and Sherriff Calder, two Rotarians from Saskatoon who made the trip north to convince then Prince Albert mayor Samuel McLeod to start a Rotary Club in the City. Chappell and Calder arrived late in the night, but undaunted, they got McLeod out of bed and made their proposal.

By Mar. 1, 1920, the new Prince Albert Rotary Club was in place, and McLeod was one of 25 charter members.

“It’s a little bit mind-boggling to be honest with you, thinking about how many organizations are around for 100 years,” Weinrich said. “It’s really quite humbling to be a part of it.”

Projects like the North Saskatchewan River swimming area soon became one of the club’s hallmarks. Hosting community events was their other.

In the mid-40s, the club started the Rotary Christmas Carol Festival, a widely popular event that continued into the 1970s. The revived, organized and funded a provincial music festival, and fundraised to send Prince Albert high school students to visit Parliament Hill in Ottawa or attend the Model United Nations Assembly (MUNA).

The sponsored international aid projects in Cambodia and India, fundraised to build a Red Cross Hospital in Paddockwood and sponsored another Rotary Club in Nipawin. They also began fundraising for the Rotary Trail, something members see as their signature project.

“There’s just a ton of projects,” chuckled former president Brian Harris, who joined the club in 2005. “It goes on and on and on.”

While most members are proud of the Rotary clubs many accomplishments, members like Harris and Weinrich said it’s the fellowship and camaraderie that kept them coming back. In Harris’ case, he joined at a co-worker’s suggestion. In Weinrich’s case, it was a family member. Both say they’re grateful for that invitation, and the lifelong friendships that resulted from it.

Past Rotarians remember the club just as fondly. Current provincial cabinet minister and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave became a Rotarian after moving to Prince Albert in 2000. Today he’s an honourary Rotarian, and he has nothing but good memories from those early meetings.

“I looked at it on Monday as a break from work,” Hargrave remembered during a speech at the club’s centennial celebration on Saturday. “It was like, ‘good, I get to go fellowship with my fellow Rotarians.’”

At its peak, the Rotary Club of Prince Albert had more than 200 members in its social club alone. Like many services clubs, their membership rolls are smaller than they once were, but members say they’ll meet that challenge with enthusiasm. They don’t know what the next 100 years will bring, but they’re confident that whatever challenges arise, the Rotary Club of Prince Albert will be there to meet them.

“Rotary does a good job of adapting,” Weinrich said.