Adventures in Community Service
“In six months they will all be gone – they will be dead”, was the reply that President Oscar Olson received from Dr. Malcolm McEachern, Medical Director of the General Hospital when he enquired about the prognosis of twelve little girls who were in the Tuberculosis ward.
The shock of this reality launched Oscar Olson and the Club on an odyssey of community service that was to touch the economic, social, educational, health and political life of the city. It has no equal in the annals of our community.
Tuberculosis, the feared “White Death” that carried off countless young people, before the advent of antibiotics at mid-century, yielded only to three prescriptions, – early diagnosis, rest and improved housing and nutrition.
After consultation with physicians specializing in tuberculosis control and treatment a decision was reached in December 1917 to support the construction of a free health clinic to fight the dreaded disease. Almost at once $17,700. was pledged by club members and plans were made to raise an additional $60,000. from the community. This objective was quickly achieved. On November 26, 1918, the cornerstone of the clinic was laid and construction was to be completed early in 1919.
The clinic featured facilities for Nose and Throat Treatment, Visiting Nursing Services, Diagnostic Services and a unique Open Air School which enabled children under treatment to continue their schooling under what, at that time, was considered ideal conditions. In the five years ending on December 31, 1923, 4,484 new patients were received, 11,247 consultations had been provided and the Nursing staff had carried out 11,640 visits.
The Club operated the clinic for its first year then turned the administration over to the City Health Department. At this time it was discovered that there was a surplus of $9,000. in the clinic funds. After consideration it was decided to use this money to establish a Fresh Air Camp for children at risk, and this was done. The camp located on the shore of West Point Grey, on property donated by the Provincial Government, was operated for many years by the Club and could accommodate up to 142 children in a season. The statistics proudly reveal that the children averaged a weight gain of 3 1/2 pounds during their holiday, an indication of the problems in their everyday life-style.
Throughout the life of the clinic and the camp the Club undertook to provide Christmas hampers of food, clothing etc. for needy families with Tuberculosis. This support was administered by the nurses on the staff of the clinic to preserve anonymity and dignity.
The “Clinic” as it was affectionately called gave birth to the “Women’s Auxiliary to the Rotary Institute for Chest Diseases”, the forerunner to the present Rotary Women’s Auxiliary. More about the “Rotary Annes” in a later chapter.
The Clubs activities in Tuberculosis control did not end with the Clinic and Camp, however. In 1931 in partnership with the I.O.D.E. the Club took advantage of the building recently vacated by the Infectious Diseases unit of the General Hospital to establish the “Preventorium”. A residential facility for children who had been exposed to TB and needed special care. This facility later became a hospital for severely handicapped children and is now known as “Sunny Hill Hospital for Children” and still receives some Rotary support for special needs.
The Reverend Leslie Pidgeon who played such an active part in the early days of the club had received a call to Winnipeg in 1916, and upon leaving was honoured with the first Honorary Membership. At the International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1918, Reverend Pidgeon was elected President of the International Association the first Canadian to be so honoured.
The aftermath of the Great War provided many opportunities for service. Help was given to Britannia after their disastrous flood, Halifax received help after the great explosion and returning veterans were assisted in rehabilitation.
An outstanding example of selfless service was the transportation assistance given to the Concentration Hospital set up in King Edward High School to care for victims of the great flu epidemic of 1918. The regular Rotary luncheons were cancelled for 5 weeks to reduce the chance of infection and during this time 40 to 50 automobiles owned and manned by members maintained a day and night service carrying nurses and volunteers to and from work.
Action was taken on several political matters in the post war period. Support was given the Mayor and the Citizens Protective League during a particularly serious period of labour unrest. And it is recorded that the Club’s efforts greatly helped the maintenance of law and order. The city was also aided in a publicity campaign to popularize Vancouver, $25,000 being raised by public subscription for this cause.
Vancouver was on the march in the decade of the twenties and with the post war development came problems. Drug addiction was rearing its ugly head, there was a need for programs for young boys and girls and child welfare needed attention. Literally a smorgasbord of social problems cried out for help.
The drug addiction matter was highlighted in 1921 and a program of community organization was undertaken. This culminated in a large public meeting in the Empress theatre and strong recommendations were transmitted to Ottawa.
A Boys Work Committee was established early in the decade and from this beginning sprung many outstanding programs. The Boy Scout movement received the Club’s support and assistance was provided to the establishment of Camp Byng at Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast. The first Boys Club in Vancouver was built with Club support and the Hastings Community Center was launched with a grant of $4,500.
The Vancouver General Hospital received financial assistance in 1934 to provide a TB Research Laboratory, and the Club helped to fund a Childrens Research project which led to the establishment of the Children’s Aid Society.
The fledgling University of British Columbia, which was housed in the “Fairview Shacks”, in reality, the old Vancouver General Hospital nurses home and new facilities were badly needed. Many in the community wished to see new facilities built on the present site in Point Grey, but the government was reluctant to spend money. The Club supported the University by resolution in 1921 and later in 1923 supported the famous “Great Trek” of university students, each carrying a stone, as they marched to Point Grey to pressure the reluctant government to provide badly needed financing.
A further education activity was undertaken in 1922 when in cooperation with high schools of the city members of the Club addressed students in high schools on the subject and importance of citizenship. Over 3,000 students were reached in this endeavour.
The motion picture exploded into prominence as a medium of entertainment in the early 1920’s and as one may expect the quality of the films and particularly their “moral” content was a matter for public concern. It was in this period that the famous Hays office of film censorship was established by the industry. Vancouver was no exception to this public concern and the following resolution was passed by the club.
“Whereas in the opinion of the Rotary Club of Vancouver many films shown in the motion picture houses of this Province are harmful and frequently objectionable, particularly to children; And whereas in the opinion of this Club these bloodcurdling, nerve racking and suggestive pictures have become a serious menace to the health and morals of the younger generation; Therefore be it resolved that this Rotary Club do pray the Honourable the Attorney General to cause to be made a more strict censorship of films before they are shown in the motion picture houses of British Columbia and in particular those films depicting scenes of murder, robbery, problem plays and other forms of crime.”
Such outrage over the quality of the films of the day only serves to remind us of the old adage that “the more things change the more they remain the same”. For film quality is currently still a matter for concern.
In 1921 The International Association of Rotary Clubs at the annual convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, took a landmark decision to strike a committee to develop a standard form of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Association. Vancouver was represented on this committee by Alex R. McFarlane. The committee worked for a year on their appointed task and the completed document was presented to and passed by the convention of 1922 in Los Angeles. This basic Constitution and By-Law stands today as the foundation for the present day organization of the Clubs. The name of the organization was officially changed to “Rotary International” as this time.
Health and welfare projects dominated the depression years but in spite of the need to sustain those programs already in place the Club was able to help launch new and valuable services.
In 1935 – 1936 a grant of $2,000 was made to assist in the establishment of the Cancer Foundation, and a grant of a further $2,000 provided for a tuberculosis research laboratory at the General Hospital.
In 1938 the Club concluded its first 25 years of life and when one considers that this 25 year period embraces two of the most cataclysmic social disaster to strike man in the past 500 years, the Great Ware and the Great Depression, Rotary had proved its mettle.
In this period the Club raised $281,770., $77,770. of which was invested in the TB Chest Clinic, $39,308. provided assistance to needy TB families, $49,698 supported the Fresh Air Camp, $12,900 helped launch the Preventorium, and $21,590 was contributed directly to boys work. Fifty-one other donations were made to a wide range of community services.
Six members who served in this outstanding period of our history are still in the Roster and four of them still attend meetings on a regular basis. The six members are: Stanley J. Clarke. David C. Dawson, T.R. Jeffree, Maynard S. Joiner, Martin Shanahan, and Stanley C. Thorpe.