Last year marked Fonthill Lions’ 75th anniversaryBY MARYLOU HILLIARD Special to The Voice
A short story could never do justice to the rich history of the Fonthill Lions, however the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings very true. A simple flip through scrapbooks of historical photos and newspaper articles paints a warm, impressive portrait of a club built on community spirit, hard work, dedication, friendship and fun.
Life in the Village of Fonthill was significantly different back when the club was first started. But one thing that has remained true throughout the years is the committed dedication and determination of Fonthill Lions members to serve their local community.
The club was conceived when Lou Whittaker, a member of its sponsoring Welland Lions club, along with his brother-in-law, Leo Giles, recruited the support of an eclectic group of community-oriented gentlemen from across all walks of life. The original “pride” included a local electrician, Town Clerk, butcher, barber, physician, pharmacist, school teacher, general store owner and several farmers. With that diverse group, the Fonthill Lions club was born with 24 members, receiving its charter on April 3, 1945.
Members originally met at the Old Fire Hall on Pelham Road, then moved to Davis Hall on Haist Street, prior to purchasing 7.5 acres of vacant land on Hurricane Road in 1970, still home of the Fonthill Lions today. In 1972, the land was opened as a park, now known as Gord L. Klager park, named after Charter Member Gord Klager. The Lions’ hall officially opened in 1974, a place to bring members and the community together for many years to come.
The Fonthill Lions have always been strong supporters of sports and recreation in the community. One of the first major projects that the club undertook was work on the Fonthill Park, now known as Marlene Stewart Streit Park. Beginning in 1950, the Fonthill Lions purchased adjacent property to create access to the park, then improved the baseball field, installed lighting, built an outdoor rink, financed ice equipment, constructed a change house for skaters, and erected a bandshell. In 1959, the Fonthill Lions began a campaign for Fonthill’s first public neighbourhood pool, donating $16,000 for construction. In 1975, they donated $17,000 towards construction of the original Haist Street community arena, which was recently torn down to make room for new housing.
The Lions also created baseball and soccer fields on their Hurricane Road property, fully equipped with outdoor lighting. The Lions baseball field is still home today for the town’s slow pitch league. In addition, the Lions recently installed new outdoor lighting to become the home for a local ball hockey league, providing healthy outdoor activity for both children and adults.
In 2016, the club pledged $25,000 to sponsor an elevator, named the “Fonthill Lions Lift,” to enable accessibility for everyone at the town’s new Meridian Community Centre.
In their many years of service, the Fonthill Lions held several events and raised funds for a variety of causes. There were golf tournaments, soap box derbies, bike-a-thons, walk-a-thons, paper drives, public speaking programs, boxing nights, Christmas parties, Canada Day activities, raffles, lotteries, yard sales, agricultural nights, bottle drives, drive-thru meals and local chef “Sliderfest” competitions.
A popular event hosted for many years by the Lions was their annual carnival and parade, which was always a summer highlight for people of all ages. One very unique 1988 fundraiser was a “Building lot lottery,” where the first prize was a 65’ x 140’ building lot.
The Lions have supported many local causes, including Pelham Cares, Wellspring Niagara, Welland Hospital Foundation, as well as Lions International projects such as Dog Guides and Lake Joseph Camp for the Blind.
The Fonthill Lions club sponsored the Fenwick Lions club when that club was chartered in 1949. In 1980 the two local clubs worked together to raise funds to purchase a Leader Dog.
In 1970, the Fonthill Lions sponsored the formation of the Fonthill Lionette, who joined Lions International in 1989 and changed their name to the Fonthill Lioness, providing tireless community care for over 50 years. The Lioness provide support to the Fonthill Lions, but also donate to many other projects such as Pelham Cares, Pelham Library, Town of Pelham Day Camp, Welland Hospital Foundation, FACS, VON, Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre, Lions Effective Speaking, Camp Dorset, Lake Joseph Centre, Camp Kirk, Camp Trillium, Women’s Place, Lions Homes for the Deaf, Lions Foundation of Canada, Eye Care Niagara, Lions Youth Exchange and Lions Foundation of Canada. Together, the Fonthill Lions and Lioness have greatly enhanced the social fabric of the community over the years.
The Fonthill Lions have the unique distinction of being “The Motto Makers” for Lions International. In 1954, Fonthill Lion Doug Stephenson’s motto of “We Serve” was chosen from 6,000 entries as Lions International’s global motto.
Always known for their “We Serve” commitment, the Fonthill Lions proudly display numerous scrapbooks showcasing many unique events, activities, fundraisers, all to support giving back to the community.
The year 2020 marked the Fonthill Lions 75th anniversary—unfortunately a year when celebrations were not possible due to the pandemic. In fact, most community events were cancelled, somewhat hindering community spirit locally and around the globe. Yet despite the challenges, the Fonthill Lions continued their diehard devotion to local community service. Rich in tradition, the Fonthill Lions club continues to flourish today, serving its community, welcoming new members and preserving historical memories for future generations.
Marylou Hilliard is a 2 Year Director of the Fonthill Lions Club