This spring, one of the oldest community groups in Red Deer will be celebrating its 90th anniversary.
That organization is the Red Deer Elks Lodge #85, which was chartered in May 1924.
The Canadian Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was first established in 1912 in Vancouver. It was a separate organization from the American Elks, although the two groups shared a common history and had similar basic beliefs.
The first Elks Lodge was established in Calgary in July 1913, followed shortly thereafter with a lodge in Medicine Hat.
The Edmonton Lodge was chartered in March 14, 1914. Former Alberta Premier A.C. Rutherford served as the first Exalted Ruler and soon became the Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks of Canada for four years.
The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 put an enormous damper on the Elks’ organizational work. However, the organization quickly became active again immediately after the end of the War. Between 1921 and 1924, three national conventions were held in Alberta.
New lodges began to spring up across the province. In mid-April 1924, Jack McCoubrey of Calgary came to Red Deer to see if there was any interest in forming an Elks lodge in the community.
He was met with an incredible response.
Although Red Deer had a population of only 2,800 at the time, more than 100 people quickly indicated their interest in joining.
One major reason for the strong interest in forming a lodge was the fact that the Elks did not care what a person’s religion or background was. All that was asked of prospective members was that they be persons of good character, who were willing to work hard to help their fellow lodge members and the community as a whole.
The need for a grass-roots, inclusive, ‘self-help’ organization in the community was very evident. The First World War had caused a collapse of the local economy. Governments became, for all intents and purposes, bankrupt. Local banks refused to lend the City of Red Deer any more money and, at one point, even refused to honour the City’s paycheques.
Local school trustees went door-to-door to see if they could raise enough money from delinquent taxes to pay the school teachers.
Thus, there was an urgent need for the local citizens to band together to create community and recreational services and infrastructure.
There was no point in turning to governments for help. People had to cooperate and tackle the needs of the community themselves.
When the Red Deer Elks Lodge was officially chartered on May 14, 1924, there were more than 120 charter members. Several more people indicated that they would like to soon join.
The chartering ceremonies were held in the Red Deer Armouries as this one of the few places in the City that could hold a crowd of that size.
Within a year, the membership of the Lodge nearly doubled to more than 200. The Elks also quickly raised an impressive amount of money for a variety of worthy community causes.
One of the first was the construction of a new arena to replace the one that had collapsed under a heavy weight of snow nearly 20 years before. Another was the revival of a community band and the provision of children’s playground equipment.
Unfortunately, space does not allow the recounting of the extensive number of projects initiated by the Elks and the enormous range of groups and causes that have received very generous financial assistance from the Elks and the associated Order of the Royal Purple over the past several decades.
On Saturday, May 10, the Elks will be celebrating their 90th anniversary with a banquet at the Elks Hall on Taylor Dr. and Horn St.
Further information on the event and tickets can be obtained by contacting the Elks at 403-346-3632 or email@example.com.