Elks invest in Slave Lake for 70 years and counting

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

A lot has changed in Slave Lake in the last 70 years, but the Slave Lake Elks are still active.

In August 1953, the group was started.

The November 12, 2003 Lakeside Leader had an article about the 50th anniversary of the Slave Lake Elks. Gunnar (E.G.) Wahlstrom was the first exalted ruler. Other initial executive members consisted of C.J. Schurter, S.J. McNab, F.G. Waite, W. Reinbold, A.L. Wright, and D.G. Tarney. Membership included Sam and Henry Sinclair, and 40 or so men.

The sod turning for the Elks Hall was May 1, 1976. Left to right, Slave Lake Elks exalted ruler Joe Moger and Elks provincial president G. Brewer. Photo courtesy of the Elks.

At the time, there were between 200 and 300 people living in Slave Lake, says the 2003 article.

On May 15, 1956, the Elks charter was signed in Winnipeg, says current Elks secretary and treasure Kim Burton.

As a woman, Burton is a fine example of one way the Elks have changed over the years. Initially, Elks were men only. The female branch was called the Royal Purple.

In 1998, the national body of the Elks voted to allow women, says a Sept. 18, 1999 Scope article. In 1999, the Slave Lake Elks had 35 members. Of those seven were women.

In March 2023, the Slave Lake Elks has nine members, with just over half of them (five) women. The members have been Elks between two months and 39 years, most in the six to seven-year range.

In some places, the Elks and Royal Purple merged, but Slave Lake still has both.

Another change is the regalia and formality.

Four Slave Lake Elks in the 2019 Riverboat Daze parade in Slave Lake. Left to right, Ryan Burton, Shannon Kabyn, Kim Burton and Bob Bennett. Photo courtesy of the Elks.

In the 1950s and up into the 1980s, Elks wore a uniform – fez (hats) and jackets. Now, the uniform is optional and most Slave Lake members don’t own them.

The name of the leader has also changed. Originally, the Elks leader was called the exalted ruler. Now the Slave Lake one goes by president, and officially he is the exalted ruler (president).

Asked why he joined the Elks 39 years ago (mid-1980s), current president Peter Haynes says, “they conned me.”

Haynes’ boss was the Elks secretary, he says. His boss told him to attend an Elks meeting. Haynes did and became secretary. His boss had been trying to retire, but wasn’t allowed until he found a replacement. Something must have clicked, because he’s still around, and has moved up the ranks through the years.

“Back in the day it was quite something to be part of the Elks,” says Haynes. “Every businessman back in those days was a member. They were pretty picky who joined.”

New members had to be voted in unanimously, using a secret ballot of white and black marbles. One black marble and you weren’t allowed in.

The Elks of Canada were started in 1912.

Haynes understanding of history is that it was “all the guys who couldn’t get into the Freemasons.”

“We are a lot more inclusive than we used to be,” he adds.

Burton says, that “inclusion of all” is one of the national focuses of the Elks.

Asked how the Elks has changed in the 39 years he’s been a member, Haynes says, “The people is the biggest thing. I don’t believe there’s anybody left alive from when I joined. They were the old guys.”

Back in the mid-1980s, when he joined the founding members and those how joined in the 1950s were still involved.

Another change has been the number of members.

As of March 2023, Slave Lake has nine members. When the charter was signed in 1956, 45 men signed it.

Canada-wide 40 years ago (mid-1980s), there were half a million Elks member, says Haynes. As of February 2023, Canada has 7,400 active members. Elks membership is also aging, so one of the stats it tracks is the number of people who died.

One thing which has not changed is the focus on volunteering and fundraising for community projects.

Haynes credits the continued existence of the Slave Lake Elks to work done by Stu LaFoy during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the 1980s or 1990s, Peter Haynes (current president – left) and Stu LaFoy in front of the Elks sign at the Slave Lake Elks Hall. Photo courtesy of the Elks.

“We’re a group of volunteers,” says Burton.

The Slave Lake Elks’ goal is to raise money.

“We do that by running the bar in the Legacy Centre,” she adds. They do this for fundraiser events put on by other non-profits and for private functions.

When Elks had more volunteers, it also held its own events. However, now it finds this tricky with small numbers.

The last event it ran was Snacks and Snickers a comedy night and charcuterie board event in August 2021.

The Elks donates the money it raises to “anything that is kid or local,” says Haynes.

Asked about some of the perks of being an Elk, Haynes says, “the camaraderie of the bar tending.”

Burton says, she has “built relationships by bar tending.”

In September 2022, Haynes manned an Elks booth at an event to promote community groups in the Multi Rec Centre. He took the original charter. He met various people who were descedents of the men who signed it.

The Slave Lake Elks have some second generation members. Siblings Sheldon (Elk for 35 years) and Shannon Kabyn (7 1/2 years)’s father Mitch was an Elk.

One of the Slave Lake Elks’ early projects in the 1950s was building the first nursing station in Slave Lake, says the 2003 Leader article. The district nurse both lived and worked there.

Since at least the 1970s, this has been private home in northeast Slave Lake.

The Elks had a few meeting spaces.

The Slave Lake Elks Hall in probably the 1990s. From the Leader archive.

Prior to 1976, the Elks met in what later became the Centennial Daycare building, says the Nov. 12, 2003 Leader article about the 50th anniversary of the Elks.

This building was torn down in 2020, after having been abandoned since the Legacy Centre was built.

The sod-turning for the Elks Hall on 6 Ave. NE Slave Lake was May 1, 1976. One of the Elks’ photo albums includes a photo from December 15, 1976 of the hall, which from the outside at least appears finished.

The Elks Hall was initiated by Bill Thomas, the exalted ruler, says Haynes. It was built entirely by volunteers. Thomas worked in the oilfield and some days, he’d tell his whole crew, we’re not working today. We’re volunteering to build the Elks Hall.

Many of the current Elk members have memories of the Elks Hall.

Burton has only been an Elk for six years, but attended dances and other events when she moved to Slave Lake 30-odd years ago.

A news clipping in the photo album says Slave Lake hosted the 1977 Northern Zone Elks curling Playdowns. The Slave Lake team was Jacques Lachambre (skip), Fred Nystrom, Joe Moger, and Gene Donald.

Other newspaper clippings from the 1970s highlight Elks donations, featuring exalted ruler Albert Miller. The donations were to Slave Lake General Hospital, Slave Lake Minor Hockey Association, Slave Lake Beavers and Cubs, South Shore Children’s Program, Slave Lake Day Care, and Slave Lake Kindergarten and Playschool.

From 1968 to 1987, the Slave Lake Elks donated over $6 million to children’s programs, says a Sept. 2, 1987 Leader article. In 1987, the Elks had 60,000 members across Canada.

From 1984 to 1987, the Elks were the main force behind building a track-and-field track at Roland Michener Secondary School in Slave Lake, says a Sept. 16, 1987 Leader article. The National ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of Canada, attended the grand opening on Sept. 10, 1987.

The next big Elks project was to beautify the Slave Lake Cemetery, starting in 1999.

“It needs a lot,” said Elks treasurer Stu Lafoy in the article, in a September 1, 1999 Leader. “We would have it like a park.”

That same month, Lafoy was interviewed by the Slave Lake Scope about the impact of unemployment on donations.

“In my 23 years with the club here, it has to be one of the worst years ever, if not the worst,” he said in the article. He suspected the club would be only be able to raise half of the $32,000 it had the year before. Bingo three evenings a week was the Elks’ biggest fundraiser.

Back in the day, Haynes was one of the bingo callers.

“We used to have huge bingos,” he says.

Both Haynes and Burton remember the smoke-filled bingo hall.

“Bingo and smoking went hand-in-hand,” says Burton.

Also, people drank a lot.

“We did dances and steak barbecues,” adds Haynes.

Another event in the late 1980s was a bullarama. Current Elks member Sheldon joined to help with that event.

The first Elks lobster supper was in 1988.

In the November 12, 2003 Leader article, Lafoy said that from 1997 to 2003, the Slave Lake Elks donated over one million dollars. The article listed 105 organizations that the Elks had donated to.

The Elks Hall was torn down after the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire and replaced by the Legacy Centre.

The Elks in general have been struggling to get members, says Haynes. Any lodges with buildings are struggling. In 2011, the Slave Lake Elks saw a way to get out of the burden of owning a building. They donated the land to the Wildfire Legacy Corporation.

The Elks have an office and a storage space in the Legacy Centre and sole rights to run the bar. They are also on the Legacy Corporation board. Other partners in the corporation are the Town of Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, Sawridge First Nation, and the Slave Lake Child Care Society.

Slave Lake Elks as of March 2023.

Share this post

Post Comment