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For 90 years, Newmarket Lions have helped catch those who ‘slip through the cracks’

As one of the first service clubs in Newmarket— and the oldest still in operation — the Lions volunteers are marking a milestone anniversary this year

As one of the first service clubs in Newmarket— and the oldest still in operation — the Newmarket Lions have seen a fair bit of change through the years.

Formed in the early 1930s, they’ve weathered the Second World War, changes to fundraising with the rise of the Ontario Lottery Corporation, and, now, the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, they’re set to celebrate an incredible 90 years exemplifying Lions Clubs International’s motto, “We Serve”. 

“The focus of the club has changed through the years, as the government introduced things like OHIP,” said Lion Richard Metcalfe. “But it’s always been about helping the community and its members.”

Metcalfe was just 19 when he joined the Newmarket Lions in 1971. Alongside the club’s milestone 90 years in operation, he’s personally celebrating 50 years of committed volunteer work.

As a Lion, Metcalfe is one of 35 committed members who “work as a team” to effect positive change in the community.

“We can’t meet face to face, so interactions with each other have been limited,” said Metcalfe. “But we’ve been fortunate to be able to continue our work.”

Founded by “prominent businessmen and interested citizens” in March 1931, the Newmarket Lions’ early work focused almost exclusively on children: within the decade, they had established eye and health examinations for every child in Newmarket, and had developed the Newmarket Lions Club Park.

Dental, medical and scholarship payments remained a staple for the club through the decades, while the special needs Fairmead School, Southlake Regional Health Centre’s pediatric ward, the Newmarket Seniors Centre, and multiple public swimming pools received funding or were solely funded by the Lions.

Today, the Newmarket Lions are best known for their annual scholarship-gifting Music Festival, now 60 years old, and holiday Santa Fund, which distributes hundreds of gift cards and food vouchers to families in need each year. 

Their work with Southlake Regional Health Centre has funded furnishings and equipment for the Pediatric Cancer Unit, while programs like Coats for Kids, a free winter outerwear donation program, and the Camp Kirk Foundation, a non-profit camp for children with learning disabilities, autism and ADD, provide relief to citizens who “slip through the cracks.”

Though fundraising has been “almost impossible” due to the closure of major revenue sources like Bingo World Newmarket in 2020, 2018 to 2019 saw the Newmarket Lions raise a staggering $110,000 toward various programs and charities.

“What makes being a Lion so rewarding is knowing you’re making a difference with a group that’s like-minded,” said Lion Sylvia Brock. “Being involved and sharing the experience is wonderful.”

Sylvia and Kirby Brock have volunteered with the Newmarket Lions for nine and 12 years, respectively. With decades of additional experience working with Inn from the Cold and other local organizations, they’re well versed in volunteerism. 

As Newmarket Lions, the Brocks have spearheaded the Santa Fund and student Effective Speaking Contest, among others. It was the Lions motto “We Serve” and a desire to help those in need that attracted them to the club, they said.

“In 2021, we’re looking forward to getting back on the wagon and getting our community up and running again,” said Kirby Brock. “It’s a really exciting thing to think about, now that the vaccine’s available.”

Though nothing concrete is planned to celebrate their 90th anniversary, Metcalfe reports the Newmarket Lions intend to make a “significant” donation to the town.

“It’s our way of thanking our community.”