Lions without a den
Carbonear club determined to continue serving community
If the walls of the Carbonear Lions Den could only speak, what yarns they could spin!
The 39-year-old landmark on Valley Road is coming down to make way for a new school in the area. When it was built in 1972 and opened in 1973, the den was the only building west of the Columbus Drive overpass. In fact, neither the Carbonear bypass road nor the overpass that takes it over Valley Road, existed at that time. They would come along towards the end of the decade.
The Lions Den also predates the Carbonear Swimming Pool by a couple of years.
At the time it was built there were no houses on Line Road, which has since grown into a suburb of the town.
And who would have dreamed 40 years ago the area, which was then a wilderness, would one day have not one, but two major schools?
Veteran club members recall when the site for the den was first being considered, one of the biggest concerns among the membership was that “nobody would go there because it was so far out of the way and off the beaten path.”
Over the past four decades, those walls have echoed the voices of most of Newfoundland and Labrador’s premiers from Joe Smallwood, Frank Moores and Brian Peckford to Tom Rideout, Clyde Wells and Brian Tobin.
But political rallies were only one of the plethora of social and cultural events that have taken place under its rafters.
The den has been the setting for just about every manner of public event, from rallies to roasts, folk festivals to fashion shows and breakfasts and bingos to firemen’s and New Year’s Eve balls.
Those who had occasion to visit the building for various functions will miss it. But nobody will miss it as much as the people who spent the most time there – members of the Lions Club.
Two veteran members sat down with The Compass recenty to reminisce, talk about the future and dispel a few myths about the club’s status.
Bruce Foote joined the club in 1967, the year after it was chartered. And Bill Oates became a member in 1968. Both have been loyal and active members ever since.
They have mixed feelings about watching their second home come down.
“I haven’t been in to see it come down because I don’t want to see that,” Foote said.
Oates, who is serving his third term as president, has taken a different approach, and keeps tabs on the demolition “nearly every day.”
“ To see it coming down is somewhat sad for anybody who was there as long as we were – it’s sad to see it go,” Oates said.
“For the most part the building was built by members themselves,” he recalled. “Between myself and Clyde Butt, we put just about every one of those steel beams in place.”
Club remains viable
Some have speculated the club might crumble, just like the building. Not so, said Oates.
“ The ( building) is gone, but the Lions Club is still active here. We operate strictly as a service club. So whether we build a new building or buy a building has yet to be determined.”
That will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which will be the final financial settlement with the provincial government for their building and land.
“ We don’t have any final settlement from government yet,” Oates said, noting all the property for the new school was expropriated.
Except for catering to various functions, he explained the club doesn’t really need a building to continue operating. He said finding alternate accommodations to hold functions “is not a major concern for us.”
Over the years the Lions have enjoyed a good working relationship with other service organizations, including the Royal Canadian Legion and Knights of Columbus. Referring to those groups, Oates said, “I’m sure if we need anything, they would be only too happy to help us out.”
A bigger challenge facing the Lions is one that all service clubs have to contend with these days — a declining and aging membership.
The club once boasted 48 members, but now has about a dozen.
Initial discussions to form a Lions Club in the town took place at the old town hall on Bannerman Street. The Carbonear Lions Club was sponsored by the Bay Roberts Lions Club, which is still going strong.
The club’s first charter night was held May 3, 1966 at the Masonic Hall, with Fraser Morgan of the Bay Roberts club acting as program chairman. Morgan was serving as zone chairman at the time.
Subsequent meetings were held at the old Fong’s Restaurant on Water Street, before the club moved into its first den in an old house they bought on Pike’s Lane. But concerns among area residents about the operation of a service club in a residential area prompted members to look for a new site for a new den. And the rest is history. Of all the memories Bill Oates has of his time in the Lions Den, one sticks out. The year was 1992 and the event was the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games, cohosted by Carbonear and Harbour Grace.
The service club was a major sponsor of the games, and served as the athletes’ village.
“ We did a lot of the catering, and to see so many young athletes from all over the province go through there, that was really something,” Oates recalled. “I was really proud to have been a part of it.”
A framed souvenir set of the gold, sliver and bronze medals awarded at the games and given to the Lions by the organizing committee are among the most precious mementos the Lions had to take from the old building.
The club has raised millions of dollars for numerous causes on the local, provincial and international scene. Even before they had their own building, members would go doorto-door collecting and selling tickets.
If someone in the area needed a wheelchair or transportation for medical treatment, the Lions Club would help out.
Tangible evidence of the Lions’ contribu- tion to Carbonear can be seen across the street at the Carbonear Recreation Complex and Swimming Pool, to which they provided financial support.
From donating ambulances to the old Carbonear Hospital to helping raise funds for the town’s first aerial ladder truck and other firefighting equipment, the Lions have left their mark on the town.
Helping people with diabetes and the visually impaired through the Sight First campaign and Seeing Eye Dogs have been “major, major fundraisers,” for the Lions, Oates said, adding, “ we will also keep up our obligations to the Max Simms Memorial Camp.”
As they approach their 45th anniversary as a club in March, the veteran members vow the loss of their building does not necessarily spell the end for their club.
“ We are not finished as a Lions Club. We are not going to be in the public eye, but neither are we going to loose touch with the public we serve,” said Oates.
Bruce Foote (left) and Bill Oates are two of the longest serving members of the Carbonear Lions Club. While saddened to see their old Lions Den come down, both vow the club will continue to function as a service organization into the future.
The old Carbonear Lions Den is coming down to make way for a new school on Valley Road. If these walls could speak, what tales they could tell of the local history that was made within them!