Kay Heuer was among the first to join the ranks of an all-male Nanaimo Elks club the year it opened membership to women.
“It was difficult. A lot of the brothers didn’t want women there,” said Heuer.
She stayed with the organization because she’s stubborn, she said with a laugh, and believed in the work the Elks did for children. Today, Heuer is the Nanaimo Elks’ exalted ruler, the equivalent of a club president, and helping mark the centennial of the social and service club.
Since its first meeting in 1916, the Nanaimo Elks Lodge has sent thousands of cigarettes to soldiers overseas in the Second World War, helped children access hearing aids and contributed money to community groups.
Today, members say the lodge isn’t as formal as it once was, with regalia only worn on special occasions. In 1998, after a 77 per cent yes vote in a national referendum, it also allowed women to apply for membership. Heuer was among five who joined and said there were members who quit the lodge; it was “very upsetting” to them. But she also notes it’s changed and she’s happy she went through the process.
Denis Heppelle, secretary-treasurer, shared some history of the Elks, which held entertainment on a monthly basis for soldiers stationed in Nanaimo 80 years ago and at one time held regular curling bonspiels and a Christmas party for kids with free gifts. He’s most proud of what the Elks have contributed to the community for hearing aids and to places like Nanaimo 7-10 Club and the Nanaimo Child Development Centre. Approximately $20,000 in donations has been given this year alone.
But like other local clubs, membership is on the decline, with ranks going from 170 in 1995 to 25 this year.
It’s an old membership because young people don’t seem to want to join the Elks and have lots of other things to do, said George Schofield, a member since 1965.
In the ’60s, not everyone had a boat or motorhome and the weekend activity was to go to the Elks lodge, said Schofield, who’s proud to have been a member for 50 years.
Heuer said the 100-year celebration, which happened last month, was going to be wonderful and sad.
“It’s like coming to the end of the era for the Elks, it is. We’ve had the 90th [celebration], 95th and this one, but will we be celebrating another one in five years? I hope so.”