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By Paul Van Nest, November 2019
Hotel Frontenac 1913

The first planning meetings for a Rotary Club in Kingston were held in the fall of 1920 at Ross Livingston's Men's Wear store at 75 Brock Street. On 1 March, 1921, a luncheon meeting was held in the Frontenac Hotel on Ontario Street with Rotarians from Ottawa (our sponsoring club), Montreal and Belleville where a number of Kingstonians where introduced to the aims and objects of Rotary – which began in Chicago in 1905. It was decided, on a motion by Leman A. Guild, seconded by Roy H. Ward, to apply for a charter. The motion was carried.

From our minutes: “A meeting was held in the Frontenac Hotel on Friday, March 11, 1921 with Dr. Jos. J. Stewart in the chair. Members present: J. Hunter, Luman A. Guild, M. Graham, A.N. Lyster, H.F. Richardson, R.G. Andrews, M.M. Sims, E. Wray VanLuven, G.M. Stenton, S.W. Dyde, H.C. Pense, R.H. Ward, and W.J. Cairns (Ottawa Rotary Club)” That’s 13 present.

​​ “[The] Committee on Constitution and Bylaws brought in the report that we accept the Constitution and Bylaws of the International Association of Rotary clubs with some additions, one of which was that regular meetings be held on Thursdays, 12:30 p.m. Membership dues were set at $20 per annum, payable semi-annually, on the first day of May and November. It was then moved by H.E. Pense, seconded by G.M. Stenton, that we accept the Constitution and Bylaws as read. Carried. Pres. J.J. Stewart announced the Rotary Club of Kingston Ont. duly organized.” 

They then went on to authorize the President and Secretary to do the paperwork to affiliate the club with the International Association of Rotary Clubs [now shortened to Rotary International].

And that was it - we were born: 11 March 1921. Our charter must have been either received or dated 1 April, but I haven’t found any proof. So, in my books, this is a relief – we weren’t founded on April Fool’s Day.

Charter night was held in April 1921 at the British American Hotel (current site of the Four Points Sheraton). It included delegations from Ottawa (the sponsoring club) and Montreal with a total of 100 Rotarians sitting down for dinner. The following week, Joe Stewart took the chair for the first regular Thursday luncheon meeting that included 18 Rotarians.

Weekly meetings were held in the British American Hotel, the future sites of a Brewer’s Retail, Hendin Hole, and now the Four Points Sheraton. 18 Rotarians were admitted in March; by the end of May the number had risen to 25. But what I find sad is that 11 of the original 18 had left 1 ½ years later. Of note, on 8 Dec 1921, Charles Jackson was accepted for membership with the classification of Ladies Wear. On 3 January, 1956, his son Bruce joined. Two generations of Jacksons had been in the club since its first year, but that record of 88 years ended when Bruce died in April, 2009.

In 1923, the newly chartered club began to give Service Above Self with a focus on underprivileged and crippled children. The first fundraising project was sponsorship of a minstrel show put on in Grant Hall by RMC cadets in aid of Dr. Barnardo's Boys, who were orphaned boys from London England, brought to Canada to live primarily on farms. This event raised $450.

Another fundraiser to support mostly children was a used shoe/boot campaign.

As well as fundraising and supporting charities, the club meetings provided great fellowship and excellent speakers dealing with a range of topics that concerned the world, Canada and the local community. Membership increased from 21 in 1921 to 40 in 1924! Dues were $20 a year and lunch was 65¢.

In 1930 The Rotary Club, The Kiwanis, and the YMCA purchased 25 acres of land on Eagle Lake and established RKY Camp to help look after the recreational needs of underprivileged children. To this day the camp is jointly owned and supported financially by all three organizations.

In the early 1940s the club set up The Kingston War Service's Salvage Committee and in 1942 was the driving force behind the foundation of the Sea Cadet Corps, providing $6000 for uniforms, rifles and equipment. The Corps was subsequently turned over to the Navy League.

Since our second year of existence, 1923, the club had supported the Ontario Society for Crippled Children (the precursor to Easter Seals) but, in 1947, we took charge of the annual fundraising campaign for Society. The first telethon took place at CKWS-TV in April 1983 and continues annually to this day although in a modified form.

During the 60s, the club started the Rotary Peanut Drive, which has blossomed into a major fundraiser for all four Kingston Rotary clubs.

The Rotary Club of Kingston initiated many fundraising projects to support both community and international needs. In the early '60s, Rotarian Ed Churchill contributed $45,000 towards a campaign to open an International Centre at Queen's University.

In 1993, our club initiated The Boys and Girls Club as a major project, the funds needed coming primarily from the Syl Apps Charity Golf Tournament. Syl had long been an active member of our club and leant his name to us for this purpose. For 20 years, this tournament has received tremendous financial support from Rotarians, retired National Hockey League players and friends, all of whom consider this project to be one of our most important ongoing projects.

Contributions of hospital beds and ancillary medical equipment, gleaned from our hospitals, have been distributed to Caribbean countries over the 1980s and 90s, making a significant impact in the lives of those who have needed this help.

In 1988, Rotary International voted to allow women into Rotary. We first opened our doors to Alice McKeown and soon afterwards to a triumvirate of women: Carol Caird, Elizabeth Reid and Marilyn Benn. Doug Forbes was president. Frank Milledge oriented the three at his home. Bill Dickison sponsored Marilyn and Ron Southward sponsored another. Although Marilyn remained a member until October, 2014, Carol Caird was moved by her company, and Elizabeth Reid became a mother. Her baby was made an “Honorary Rotarian” but Elizabeth had to leave soon afterwards. In 1999, Marijke Wilkins served as our first female president, followed by Adrienne Brown in 2002-3 and Alison McShane (now Braga) in 2011-12. The fourth was Lucille Davies in 2015-16, the fifth Lindsey Foster in 2017-18, and the sixth Elsabé Falkson in 2021-22. As of 2023, women make up 32 percent of our club’s active membership.