Brantford is home to the oldest continuously operating Shriner’s Club in North America, which will celebrate its centennial anniversary this fall with a gathering of Shriners from near and far.
Shriners is a fraternal organization that blends fellowship and philanthropy, with a focus on providing free health care and transportation for sick children.
Ray Bamsey, chair of the centennial celebration taking place Sept. 8 at the Best Western Brant Park Inn, has been a proud Shriner since 1967.
“It’s a great group of men who get together to have fun and raise money for kids,” Bamsey said.
The Shriner’s Club of Brantford, formed under the auspices of the London-based Mocha Shriners Centre, first met at the Belmont Hotel on Colborne Street in 1911 with 23 chartered members, called nobles, in attendance.
In the beginning, and still today, membership is restricted to men who first join the Masonic Lodge.
The club was formalized in early 1912. Bert Inglis, a tailor whose Market Street shop doubled as
Shriners headquarters, was elected president.
The first of the club’s annual picnics – which continue to this day at a farm in Cayuga – drew a crowd to Bow Park Farm in Brantford on August 31, 1912. Circuses in Tutela Park – formerly the Parkdale Race Track – and Cockshutt Park raised funds for the Shriners’ expanding network of children’s hospitals and burn units. The group’s brightly dressed Oriental Band was a fixture at parades throughout the country.
The club moved from Inglis’ shop into the former post office at Dalhousie and George streets before settling in the former CKPC radio station on Colborne Street in 1966. The renovated and enlarged Shrine Centre played host to countless meetings, dances and socials – not to mention billiards and card games – before dwindling membership forced the group to sell the building in 2010.
The club, which numbers 60 members in Brantford with 20 still active, now meets at the Best Western.
The Brantford Shriners have raised more than $1 million since the club’s inception, contributing to the YMCA, Red Cross, cancer society and other charitable organizations.
The Shriners donated almost $100,000 for an infant security system for the postpartum birthing centre and a pediatric security system at Brantford General Hospital. Each year, bursaries worth $4,000 help youth with disabilities pursue higher education and the organization sends local youth with physical disabilities for free treatment from specialists in Montreal and the United States.
Bamsey remembers one local boy the Shriners helped some years ago.
“There was one boy whose legs were in a cast right from his groin down, with a bar across to straighten his legs,” he said. “Now he’s out running, playing soccer. That’s rewarding, to know that…they’re able to do all the things that kids can do.”
Membership may be down, but Bamsey is heartened by an uptick in interest from the Masonic Lodge in St. George.
“A lot of them are joining because they see the fun the Shriners have and are motivated to help the community,” he said.
Bamsey expects upwards of 300 Shriners and their families and friends at the September gala, including visitors from Mexico and the United States. The dinner and dance will feature comedy, along with music from singer John McDermott and the George Rose Big Band.
Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased by calling Bamsey at 519-442-2413 or 2012 club president Peter Loube at 519-757-5575.