Rotary Club of Grande Prairie

Rotary in Grande Prairie dates back to it’s charter on January 22, 1951. See our original Charter Membership list from 1951. Here are the minutes from the first organizational meeting.

The club originally met at the York Hotel, from there it went to Joe’s Coffee Shop (corner of 100 and 100, downtown, Golden Star Restaurant, Grande Prairie Inn and finally the Quality Inn (now named Paradise Inn).

The Rotary Club of Grande Prairie has sponsored the: Fort St. John club, Swan City Rotary Club (who in turn sponsored the Sunrise Club), Grande Prairie After Five Club, Grande Cache Rotary Club, Sexsmith Interact Club, Rotaract Club of Grande Prairie and the Interact Club at the Composite High School.

History of Rotary in Grande Prairie

The local newspaper did a story about the District Governor of the time and his visit to the city. Governor Strapp had some wise words, see them here.

October 16, 1953
One of the earliest projects of the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie was the sponsorship of the Air Cadets. The Squadron was denoted 577 Squadron. Since that time we have supported the Squadron financially, providing $15,000.00 annually. In addition, the Club provides an annual committee to assist in the operation and programming of the Squadron, which now has a complement of 99 young people, including a brass band of twelve.

The Club, under President John Wilson hosted the District Convention, with District Governor Art Balfour and his wife Alcia. Art had been our first President in 1951-1952. Rotarian Jack Mackie was Mayor of this City of 7200 and welcomed the Rotary visitors on behalf of the City. The local newspaper wrote “The largest convention ever held in Grande Prairie drew some 300 Western Canadian Rotarians, welcomed by District Governor Art Balfour. John Wilson headed the local club. Convention ccommittee chairmen included: George Simpson, Peter Gammon, Alex MacLeod, Charlie Husel, Ben Fee, Jack Jansen, Hal Tipper, Bill Fair, Lionel Dobson, Jack Mackie, Oscar Soderquist, Lorne, McNair, Gottfried Sprecher, Terry Whittacker, and Jack Crummy”

A snack bar was operated by the Club for many years at the City Fair grounds, but did not move when the Fair relocated to a new venue.

April 22, 1963
The Rotary Club of Fort St. John was chartered, sponsored by the Grande Prairie Club. President Jack Mackie was part of the sponsor process.

The earliest fund-raiser was the sale of Birthday/Anniversary Calendars. Rotarians would go door to door, collecting (for 0.25 /name)) the family members’ birth and anniversary dates. Once the names and relevant data was compiled the calendars were sold in the community. The 1967 calendar, the only one for which we have a record, listed calendar sales of 637 with a profit of $687.26, a substantial amount for that era. The program slowly died in the early ’70’s due a lack of community interest.

The City of Grande Prairie built and began to operate a Campground for the tourist industry. In 1973, City Manager, John Meidema, a future Rotarian, requested Rotary assume operation of the facility as they found it difficult to maintain staff. The City asked for $8,000 for windbreaks and toilets. The club gave $4,000 for 2 years in a row. Eventually an agreement was reached and we have operated the Campground since that time with many minor changes being made over the years. Around that time Hal Tipper was President. He updated the club in January 2014 via this letter.

Future club president Bill Beattie organized a Rotary excursion to Montreal’s Expo. He chartered 2 CN rail cars from Edmonton to Montreal and back. Word is the three day trip down was quite a party. Full bar service until the bar ran out of scotch. Playing poker with the train crew was part of the fun. Around 30 Rotarians, spouses and friends made the journey.

Under Bill Bowes and President Don Thompson, Bingo sessions were started. The only date and facility available was Sunday afternoons at the Royal Canadian Legion. There, weekly Bingo sessions were continued until the Perfect Circle Bingo Hall was opened, remaining there after the Hall was purchased by the Metis Association. In March of 2006 the Grande Bingo & Entertainment Centre opened and our Bingo sessions moved into this new facility.

May of 1973
Rotary began our Clean-a-Thon. The program began under the banner of “Let’s Make It Shine”. Students began collecting pledges on a per pound basis and on the appointed day, using up to 100 pick-up trucks, began collecting 236,000 lbs. of trash. In the later years the program was altered and the fund-raising aspect was dropped, as was the door to door pick-up to allay safety concerns. Children are now transported by School Bus and pick up trash in vacant lots, along right of ways, parks, etc. All return to the Rotary Campground where they are issued a Rotary Green-a-Thon T shirt and have all the hot dogs/hamburgers and pop they can eat. In addition, there is a draw for a bicycle for each participating school. Community participation is excellent and very much appreciated.

Spearheaded by Rotarian Dr. Joe Storcer, 1973 also saw a drive-by Rotary to commence to design and build the Golden Age Centre. A great deal of funding and a large amount of ‘sweat equity’ went into the construction of this facility.

Hugh Impey and ‘Bud’ George brought the International Youth Exchange program to the Club in 1974/1975. The first Students were a boy from New York and a girl from Long Island. Both have maintained contact with their Grande Prairie ‘parents’. Bill Simpson and Don Ness ‘parented’ the boy and Hugh and Jean, the girl. Since then we have hosted a young person nearly every year from virtually every continent, in countries such as Japan, Australia, Mexico and Poland. In 2013 it was determined we have 39 exchange students to date.

Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange program was first welcomed to our Club, organized by Bud George and Hugh Impey, it continues to this date.

The Royal Canadian Legion upgraded the recreation park on the north side of the Grande Prairie Composite High School. As our contribution, the Rotary Club funded the Track. In this same year the Club, with a budget of $40,000.00, built a Bathroom building at Camp Tamarack, a facility for children with special needs. This facility is also available to the Community at large.

It was decided that an addition to the Golden Age Centre was required. Our Club, with a contribution from the Golden Age Centre and the federal and provincial governments, completed the project that year. The new addition provided a large banquet/meeting room suitable for 200 people, as well as an additional office and recreational facilities. A Craft room was added in 1993. Rotary also provides an annual BBQ at the Centre for all local and district seniors. Usually 300 plus seniors attend for hot dogs/hamburgers, salads, ice cream, cake and fellowship.

October 13,1986 the Rotary Club of Swan City (meets Wednesdays) was chartered. This club was sponsored by the original club, “Rotary Club of Grande Prairie”.

A hospital in Belize was built in 1987/1988. This is not a hospital as we would know it, but is more of a Health Unit/Emergency Centre, which was the standard for Belize.

We were honoured to host a brunch for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, together with other Rotarians and a large number of the citizens of Grande Prairie.

Under the Presidency of Cyril Gurevitch, the Rotary Campground was upgraded to better meet the needs of the tourist industry. The sum of $100,000.00 was provided to finance this work which when completed greatly enhanced the services provided. After the Administration building was flooded in 2008, the building was gutted and rebuilt. New plumbing, electrical, etc. was installed and the bath/shower rooms refurbished. New flooring and an upgraded Boardroom were installed as well as new siding for the exterior. Cost of these major renovations was $200,000.00 and the entire project was planned and managed by our own Rotarian, Marilyn Cramer, who did a fantastic job! The official re-opening occurred in August 2009.

A Rotary Ball tournament was started with the Swan City Rotary Club. It is still ‘going strong’ with all local Rotary clubs participating.

Our Club began the Great Peace Country Duck Race, held in Muskoseepi Park. This fund-raiser was very labor intensive as tickets had to be sold, plastic ‘ducks’ had to be sorted and we had to ensure that each ‘duck’ matched a ticket sold. On race day, there was a further check to ensure no unsold ‘duck’ would be in the race. The ‘ducks’ were loaded in the box of a large gravel truck and at the appointed time, were dropped en mass into Bear Creek in front of the spillway. The ‘ducks’ traveled to the finish line, roughly in front of the Grande Prairie Museum. The first-place prize was a pick-up truck. The Duck race became almost an institution and was always well attended. We were partnered with Ducks Unlimited. In 2007 the Duck race was passed on to the Rotaract Club to continue the operation.

Answering a request from the Grande Prairie School District, a Change/Dressing room facility for the skating rink and athletic grounds was built on the Hillside Community School property, with a budget of $40,000.00.

A select gang of Rotarians, in a mock hi-jacking, ‘captured’ radio station CFGP and broadcast for several hours during the day. It was actually an inside job as Rotarian Gord Pearcy was Vice-President and General Manager of the station, so he surrendered peacefully. The date was April 1st! The station was returned to its rightful owners at lunch time as the miscreants were hungry. A good time was had by all and some good publicity for both CFGP and Rotary.

Our Club answered the call to the Polio Plus campaign (a.k.a Polio 2000). Our initial target was $25,000.00 which we were able to raise in three weeks, largely selling Rotary Cook books. We have continued to actively support this project when called upon. In addition, we have provided assistance to Operation Eyesight and have sponsored several Cataract Surgery clinics in India.

Under President Fletcher Bootle, a Skateboard Park was built in Muskoseepi Park to provide young people a more suitable and safe location to practice their sport. Official opening was in 2000. Another major project that year was the purchase of the electronics and equipment to enable the Grande Prairie Regional College to provide distance learning to Northern Alberta and British Columbia.

A Bus Tour of Grande Prairie was initiated during July and August, four days a week, to allow tourists and the community to see Grande Prairie and some of the business and industrial sites of Grande Prairie. The Tour had been started privately by Doug Montgomery who financed it by ‘passing the hat’ in the business community. It ran for two or three years when Doug and Bud George presented it to the Club as a project. It was accepted immediately and the free Tours continue to this date. ‘Goodie bags’, provided by the Grande Prairie business community, are presented to each passenger as a memento of their visit.

The Club also provided the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen with funds to remodel their kitchen. Funds were also provided to the Wapiti Community Dorm for operational/upgrading purposes.

Hugh Impey was given approval in 1997/1998 to join with the Canadian Save the Children’s Fund to commence a project in Bolivia. This Project involved establishing a school/dormitory that would provide education and upgraded living skills for 60 children from isolated communities. Thirty girls and thirty boys were to be selected by their communities to be trained and return upon successful completion of their training. The first graduates were returned to their communities in 2005. Several have been successful as Teachers in rural community schools. The School is now 60% self-supporting and is known as the Yapacani Project. Our Rotary partner on this project is the Rotary Club of Grigota at Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

The City requested our help in replacing the playground equipment in Muskoseepi Park. President Turk Taylor accepted the challenge and on June 25, 26,27, 1999 the old equipment was removed and the new equipment assembled and installed with largely Rotarian labour. Rotary paid the $47,000.00 for the equipment. President Turk did an outstanding job of organizing the work parties!

PARDS (Peace Area Riding for the Disabled) required upgrading of the Hay Barn at their facility. Rotary helped by providing the labor to rebuild Stalls and by providing new flooring for the building, with most materials provided by Rotarian Glenn Keddie. Later fencing was required on the property and again Rotary provided the labour.

March 29, 2000
The Rotary Club of Grande Prairie Sunrise was chartered, sponsored by the Swan City Club. The Sunrise Club meets Tuesdays.

In the fall of 2001 the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie sponsored the Rotaract Club of Grande Prairie. (A club for ages 18 – 30).

Member Lou Albinati proposed to the Club that we buy used vehicles such as school buses from local municipalities and drive them down to Mexico for use in their smaller communities. Drivers would volunteer and the Mazatlan Rotary Clubs would arrange placement. The first vehicle was a school bus loaded with wheel chairs, driven by member Gene Krause and Allan Kuechle from the Swan City Club. The project blossomed to include the three Grande Prairie Clubs, eventually five other Clubs have volunteered to be a part of it. As time passed fire trucks, handi-vans and ambulances have been added and in total, 47 vehicles have been delivered to Mexico. Municipal governments have been most helpful in making the vehicles available at a very reasonable cost. Since its inception, many of the arrangements have been made by Allan Kuechle of the Swan City Club.

The Guatemala Literacy Project is a partnership between North American and Guatemalan Rotary Clubs and the non-profit organization, Cooperative for Education (CoEd). This initiative provides badly needed textbooks, library materials and computer labs to underprivileged children in Guatemala and was founded by two brothers, Jeff and Joe Berninger in 1986. Greg Podmore became interested in this program and brought it to the Club in 2003. Currently 17 Clubs from 19 Rotary Districts participate in funding this program. As of 2010, 38,000 indigenous children in 217 schools have benefited from this program, 3200 of these were added in 2010. Twenty-nine percent of the budget is spent on computer centres, which will most certainly guarantee employment upon graduation. By giving students textbooks, studies show that their grades improve by 30% and the overall quality of education increases by 70%. The precepts are simple: Rotary Clubs pay for textbooks that are delivered by Rotarians to poor secondary schools, where students are assessed a small annual fee. Over the course of a few years the fee will replenish the textbooks supply for future students. CoEd funds the administrative side of the operation via partnerships with schools, churches and other groups. The Grande Prairie Rotary Club is consistently in the top 5% of donors and our current donation is $5,000.00 annually, plus hopefully a matching DDF grant.

To celebrate the centenary of Rotary International, the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie pledged $500,000.00 to assist with the financing of a new facility for the hard-to house in Grande Prairie and area, as the existing building, Wapiti Community Dorm was no longer habitable. This Centennial Project that the Grande Prairie, Swan City, Sunrise Rotary and Rotaract Clubs had undertaken was the largest project local Rotarians have ever undertaken. Our Club contributed $234,000.00 to the project now known as Rotary House. The facility continues to be operated by the Wapiti Community Dorm Society.

During Harry Sandu’s presidency, a very devoted member of our Club, Hugh Impey, was honoured with the presentation of the very prestigious Rotary International Service Award. Hugh joined Rotary in Grande Prairie in November of 1969. Among his many accomplishments is his outstanding commitment to and management of our International Projects over many years. This award is presented yearly to only 140 Rotarians worldwide, therefore particularly significant!

Under President Justin Munroe, $100,000.00 was provided to the new Grande Prairie Public Library for the provision of a community meeting room, now known as the Rotary Room. During this same period of time $5000.00 was donated to the QEII Hospital for a Helipad.

In 2007-2008 a new Project was begun in Bolivia. Again our non-Rotary partner is Canadian Save the Children’s Fund and our Rotary partner is the Rotary Club of San Miguel, Bolivia. Phase 1 of the Project has virtually been completed and provided books, desks, backpacks, tables, and chairs where required. Some toilet facilities have been supplied/upgraded, with 17 core schools involved as well as a large number of satellite schools. Phase II is in progress and is concentrating on personal hygiene and sanitation. Some 900 health packets are being distributed which contain toothbrushes/paste, water cleanser, and towels. There is also an extensive training/lecture series on hygiene in progress. Phase 11 will concentrate on clean, safe water supplies.

May 2008
The Rotary Club of Grande Cache was chartered, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie.

In 2007 the Club partnered with the QEII Hospital Foundation to raffle their annual million-dollar Dream Home. Rotary was to collect a set fee for handling sales. The partnership worked well until 2011 when the Foundation and the Club decided it would be preferable to have Rotary build, staff, and in short ‘take over’ the responsibility for the event and share the proceeds in an equitable fashion. This has been agreed upon and the 2011 Dream Home and subsequent Dream Homes have been built under the new Agreement. Complete details are at www.winadreamhome.ca

November 19, 2009
The Interact Club of Sexsmith was officially chartered, sponsored by this club.

December 2010
Member Kevin Hilgers was nominated as District Governor for District 5370 for the Rotary year starting July 2012. This is the first District Governor to come from Grande Prairie since 1958, under Art Balfour – our Club’s first President.

Summer of 2012
The club sponsored a 4th Rotary Club in the city, called “Rotary Club of Grande Prairie After Five”. They received their charter July 19, 2012.

September 2012
Grande Prairie hosted the District Conference at Evergreen Park, the first time this has occurred since 1958. “Kev’s Conference” was chaired by Fletcher Bootle and was very successful. Over 550 attendees (including some 80 youth) enjoyed 3 days of fun and fellowship. Speakers included past Prime Minister Joe Clark.

February 23, 2013
Canada’s first E-Club was chartered; “Rotary E-Club of Canada One”. This club was sponsored by two Rotary Clubs – including Rotary Club of Grande Prairie


May 2024