St Thomas Rotary

The Rotary Club of St. Thomas was started in 1950, sponsored by the Rotary Club of London. Our Charter was granted on May 24, 1950 and Charter presentation night was on June 13, 1950. Among the more than 300 guests for the evening were Tom Lawson, president of the London club, and his father, the Honourable Ray Lawson, who was Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario as well as being a Rotarian. In addition, there were many distinguished Rotary officers, District members and local dignitaries. Charter president was E.F.S. “Frank” Sanders, QC. and Charter secretary was John H. Macdonald. Both of these dedicated gentlemen were still active in the club on the occasion of our 50th anniversary celebration.

From its beginning the St. Thomas club has worked diligently to balance service work and fellowship. Club members immediately began to opt into various Rotary programs, and initiated many social events for the club and the community. In October, 1950 the club organized a well-attended community gathering to hear guest speaker Major-General E.L. Burns, returned from the Korean War. On November 21 the first ladies’ night was held. For another club meeting, all members of Elgin County Council were invited. Then, as now, at most of our partners’ events and special celebrations the Rotary Clubs of Aylmer and St. Thomas enjoyed gathering together; indeed, the two clubs often offer assistance to each other in various projects throughout the year.

In 1951 the club sponsored our first two students to attend Adventures in Citizenship in Ottawa. On June 11, 1951, for its first anniversary, the club held a very popular ladies’ night, which included a Rotary “Knowledge Kolledge.” A mid-summer ladies’ evening became an annual tradition. For many years it was held at the country estate of Rotarian Scott McKay; in later years, it was hosted at Sandam, home of Patti and Frank Sanders. Sandam has since become the site of our “change of officers” dinner, held usually on the first Monday in July.

In 1952 the first Rotary Music Festival was presented. It ran until 1976, stopped for a year and a half, started again in 1978, and continues today. During the early years, club members hosted an annual Agricultural event and a United Nations Week event, and funded and worked on many local charities and public service projects. In 1956 the St. Thomas and Aylmer clubs hosted 400 Rotarians and partners at the District 6330 Conference. In 1957 the club honoured Mrs. Eva McCulley, the first woman to be elected to a school board in Ontario [in 1923], as Citizen of the Year. In 1959, for the United Nations Week program, the club’s guest speaker was Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson.

In 1961 the club began a highly successful fundraiser, the Travel and Adventure Series, which continued for almost thirty years. By its twenty-fifth anniversary, the club was well known throughout the region for its distinguished record of humanitarian service. In 1977 Past President Bert Thacker, with great support from wife Margaret, served as District Governor.

The first Trillium Horse Show was held in 1983. In 1984 our club assisted the Aylmer club as hosts for the District Conference. 1985 was the first year for the Poinsettia campaign. 1986 was the year in which Rotary International’s Polio Plus campaign started. Locally, “happy fins” were started as a way to help raise funds for the Rotary Foundation. At RI, the Paul Harris Awards were inaugurated to support the campaign. The 35th Sandam event had 250 people in attendance and five Paul Harris fellows were announced.

In 1991 the club opened membership to women. In 1992, in response to a proposal from Frank Sanders, the club voted to support Operation Eyesight Universal . With all the additional commitments that had been taken on the members looked for new ways to raise money.


In 1991, club members built and operated their first Rotary Food Trailer. The Christmas Tour of Homes, started in 1995 and expanded in 2000, brought another very large boost to our funds for humanitarian work in the community