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.

Hum­ble be­gin­nings

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.

Wor­thy causes

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.

Photo by Terry Roberts/The Com­pass

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!

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