Join the club: How local clubs have adapted to the new normal

By Ian McKechnie

Members of the Lindsay Canadian Club, pre-pandemic. Clubs have had to adapt to survive.

One of the success stories of 2020 was how venerable old organizations steeped in tradition – namely parliaments and places of worship – shifted quickly to the brave new world of conducting their business, their rituals, and their community-building in ways no one could have imagined a few years ago.

Add to this list of organizations the many clubs which have played important roles in our community for decades, in some cases for close to a century.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of club in Kawartha Lakes. The service clubs – Lions, Optimist, and Rotary, to name three – are best known for their work “on the ground,” such as raising funds for a variety of projects and supporting a variety of causes which contribute to the community well-being. The social clubs, meanwhile, are usually composed of like-minded individuals who share a common interest in culture, history, literature, politics, social issues, and any other number of topics.

Many are composed of a membership which falls into the age demographic most at-risk for contracting the coronavirus. For some, especially the service clubs, their main revenue stream is dependent on large, annual events which of course had to be axed or re-imagined in 2020. Others meet over meals, which proved to be next to impossible as restaurants shifted to take-out only service.

So how did they adapt, and how have they fared over the last year?

To Cancel or Not to Cancel?

Some clubs, like the invitation-only Twenty Club (established 1892), cancelled their 2020-2021 seasons outright. A three-course dinner, with drinks beforehand, is such a part and parcel of the Twenty Club experience and is not something which can be easily replicated over Zoom. Club members did meet for an informal virtual get-together before Christmas, but it may be some time before papers can be presented and debated among the club’s twenty members over glasses of Scotch.

Other clubs elected to strike a balance between online and in-person functions during the warmer months, when guidelines recommended that groups of up to ten people could gather outside.

“Throughout the summer, limited in-person board meetings were called and conducted outdoors to ensure social distancing,” reports Ken Huelin, of the Lindsay East Lions Club. Unfortunately for the Lions Club, many of their keynote events – such as the annual Canada Day BBQ at Lindsay’s Wilson Fields – were put on hold and subsequently cancelled, making the summer of 2020 a quiet one for an otherwise busy club. The late spring and early summer are likewise normally a busy time for the Lindsay Optimist Club, which has overseen a youth soccer tournament for years. Like the Lions Club, Optimists took advantage of the warmer weather to have socially-distanced directors’ meetings. Not everything conducted outdoors involved official business, however. For the 94-member Lindsay Men’s Probus Club, summer afforded them an opportunity to schedule a socially-distanced golf tournament – keeping members engaged in an informal way despite club activities coming to an abrupt halt in April.

Old Clubs Move Online

With the likelihood of their regular meeting places being shuttered for the foreseeable future – and with the seasons for some organizations normally transpiring over the colder months – some of the service and social clubs alike have taken advantage of Zoom. The Rotary Club of Lindsay, which traces its history to 1922, was among the first out of the gate, shifting its twice-monthly meetings online as of May 2020. Meetings have been shorter, and the customary lunch is missed, but club president Adam Hayward reports that Rotary has gained a few new members who have tuned in.

For the almost 85-year-old Lindsay Canadian Club, putting together a completely virtual series of speakers, panel discussions, and a film screening began during the summer, with a new online payment system and website up and running by late September.

“The Club has worked to offer engaging topics and speakers in a new way this year,” says secretary Sarah Young. “Meeting virtually has allowed the club to reach further afield.” Guest speakers from beyond Kawartha Lakes have included the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the 29th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and La’goot Spencer Greening and Janie Wray, researchers based in British Columbia whose work was profiled in the National Film Board of Canada’s documentary, The Whale and the Raven.

As was the case with Rotary, several new members have joined the Canadian Club over the course of the pandemic.

Mastering the Zoom Learning Curve

Barb Truax, who founded the Lindsay Women’s Probus Club in 2012, recalls that the club’s first all-virtual meeting was a little primitive, and attracted only a handful of its 220 members. Much has changed in the last 10 months. “Our membership meeting now has almost all the components of our previous in-person meetings offering a technical advice portion one half hour to the onset of the meeting where different zoom add-ons are available,” says Truax.

Meetings now attract between 90 and 100 members and have become quite lively. “We do our community event announcements, the Winning Wheel, where a wheel containing all members’ names is spun,” Truax continues. “The winner gets a prize. (the members really like this), we have breakout rooms, and we screen share announcements and events. We have also added a Happy Hour and a Coffee Hour to the schedule so that members are able to chat if they so wish to sign up.”

Ron Wallace, president of the Lindsay Men’s Probus Club, concurs that while Zoom initially presented a challenge, it is a learning curve which is gradually being overcome by members of his organization. “We are hoping that, over time, more club members will decide to participate,” he comments. “Hopefully, after hearing from those who do, that these virtual meetings are both interesting and helpful, and that it does not take a lot of computer technical skill to be able to take part.”

Supporting Others

Although Lindsay’s various social clubs have been able to carry on through the medium of Zoom for the most part, the service clubs have had to make choices about how and where they carry out their work.

“Limited fundraising activities have been carried out thanks to the members and their families and friends allowing the club to support only Hunger Relief through the food banks over the summer and at Christmas time,” says Ken Huelin of the Lindsay East Lion’s Club. “During these unsettling times we must be diligent in how we provide support to our other causes.”

Wayne Alldred, Treasurer of the Lindsay Optimist Club, notes that his organization made a large donation to the Kawartha Lakes Food Source early on into the spring lockdown. The club maintains a large reserve for projects, and although its annual summer soccer tournament was cancelled in 2020, it enjoyed brisk sales of Christmas Trees over the first few weeks of December, an effort which brightened the holiday season for so many.

Making A Comeback

It goes without saying that the members of Lindsay’s service and social clubs are anxious to meet again – in person.

“It is difficult to keep up the interest and energy of the membership when we are unable to be out in the community doing what we enjoy,” laments Ken Huelin.

For Alldred, the Optimist Club’s twice-monthly breakfast meetings are what he misses most – a sentiment no doubt shared by Rotarians who look forward to luncheon meetings and Twenty Club members who enjoy fellowship over scotch and supper. There is something about gathering around a table with friends and fellow citizens which attracts so many to these clubs in the first place.

Being the Optimist that he is, though, Alldred is looking ahead. He hints at some projects which the club may pursue post-pandemic, when restrictions are lifted, and life returns to some semblance of normal. If anything, he hopes to see more people joining him and his fellow members for breakfast to talk, laugh, learn, and lay plans for how they might better serve their members and the community.

It’s a sentiment with which every club in town, regardless of focus or longevity, will agree.

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