Club History

History of the Edmonton (Dinner) Optimist Club
Chartered November 18, 1925

Edmonton History

 The Edmonton Bulletin (now Edmonton Journal, div. Southam Press Ltd.) announce in February 1925 that a new Service Club was formed. The group when it started it truly was set up to be 'Friend of the Delinquent Boy' (now 'Friend of Youth') as that is what their targeted project was. The club in the 1920's was made up of Business men, clergy and politicians and maintained that membership profile until the 2nd World War. Documented in provincial and local government archives records that the Club was very active in the community for over 75 years. Sponsorship of hard luck cases to camp every summer, a rifle club to teaching boys to be safe with firearms), Optimist oratorical contests were just the beginning for famous Edmonton celebrities award winning news anchors, Soap box derbies down the 9th Street (109 St) Hill, the Golden Gloves Boxing, and lots and lots of gym sport type activities primarily for inner City Boys were recognized as Optimist programs. The first few decades funds raised were from raffles, they always had a car raffle on a downtown street corner, a lottery on when the ice on the river went out under The High Level Bridge, and bake sales and Easter egg baskets were organized by the Opti-Mrs., the spouses division of the Optimist Club. The Edmonton Optimists opened a Boys Home converted from a large two story warehouse on the south side of our city (South Edmonton Optimist Boys Home) and were involved with a boys orphanage over on the Northeast and remained a powerful organization for the Boys until the War.

Largest Edmonton Service Club

After the war and a little bit during it the club changed directions a little by adding a third building in the north west part of Edmonton off of Kingsway Avenue and turned it into a boys club, the facility continued the rifle program with a range in the basement and ran as many activities as they could out of it and in the field outside they had all sorts of boys activities going on, in fact Little League Baseball in the Edmonton area was launched by Optimists. News Papers reported the Optimist homes had a 1,000 boy daily usage - no other service organization has ever met this number.

Club Downturn

Governmental interference came in and a lot of the raffles that they made money on were declared illegal and had to be stopped and fund raising turned to mostly Easter Baskets and that was the main source of funds, until the price increased due to the cost of chocolate so their only fundrasier - failed. The club was forced to return to football pools, which was illegal, in effort to pay City taxes and maintained the buildings. The South Edmonton Boys home was closed and the orphanage was turned over to the Province. In an effort to keep the one remaining building The Edmonton Optimist Club used rental income from the hall. But this ended their last building burnt down. Members started disappearing, until they almost shut the club down in the 70s. In fact only two active members existed. The Secretary of the club at the time ( Past Gov. Don Gibson) asked for a 'demit' (a term used in organizations meaning to put on hold for awhile). However the Club was not abolished.

The Edmonton "Dinner" Optimist Club - a reorganized Edmonton Optimist Club

Due to financial reasons the Club was renamed The Edmonton Dinner Optimist Club. The broken-down high maintenance building was sold to a rugby sports group that used it and freed moneys so the Optimists could start all over. In the rebuilding years, Keivin Wallace reported he met all by myself once, even said grace and recited the creed at the end. However he did manage to revive a couple of the old Optimist members, as a Scouter and dealt with older boys, was able to get some of Rover Scouts, which included his sons, (18 - 25 Senior Scouts Canada Members) and other Scout leaders to join in. The Club got a bingo and casino licenses (now legal) and is now able to earn in excess of $100,000 per year. The Optimist became co-ed thus allowing women to join in the Optimist organization; the club grew and grew, today it is 73 members strong .

The Edmonton Optimist sponsored several Optimist Club in Western Canada including the Calgary Optimist Club (1938). Other Optimist Clubs in the Edmonton area exist such as the Beverly Optimist Club (1960) The Klondike City Optimist Club (1975) and the St. Albert Optimist Club (1982). Sherwood Park Optimist Club (1984) and Leduc Black Gold Optimist Club(1995).

Family is the Link in the Optimist Club

Family members have been the link in keeping organization operating for the seventy five years. Past International District Governor for the Alberta Montana Saskatchewan and Northern Wyoming district in 1989-1990 was Keivin Wallace and he was surprised and delighted to find out that his late wife's Grandfather (Darby) was a charter member of the club. Darby apparently took an oratorical contest winner to an International Convention in Texas, he drove, the story is that he could drive his car better in the ditch between Edmonton and Calgary in those day and he drove his vehicle all the way to Texas and back with a couple of other members and the Oratorical contestant. Keivin Wallace as a kid was involved in some of the clubs activities, as that is where he learned to shoot a rifle, sold programs at their Golden Gloves boxing tournaments and participated in the soapbox derby. Both his Son’s Brian Wallace and Neil Wallace participated in Optimist Oratorical Contests.

Current Club Activities

The Edmonton Dinner Optimist remains a hands-on club, it runs a number of 'Safety on Wheels' projects (Bicycle Safety) for the several Scout Groups, we help those Scout Groups raise funds for their projects. Through a benefactor Mrs. Wyn McAra (Beverly Optimist) our club was the leader in Oratoricals away back then and still is today, in fact we virtually run the Oratoricals including CCDHH, a contest for hear impaired students at the Alberta School for the Deaf, for all the Edmonton area clubs. The program expanded and includes a Visually Challenged / Handicapped group that averages around 20, where they teach them how to speak to an audience and know how to keep their heads up, say the right things every Saturday morning for about 30 Saturdays a year. From this program they have added a choir going now which is called the Brail (Braille is copyrighted and we can't use it) Tone Choir. When the ABC (Always Buckle up Children in the Back Seat) program came along, chairman at the time Emma Collins didn't want to duplicate anything that was already operating in the City got us involved with the Capital Region Buckle up Committee where clinics are operated for parents who can come and make sure their Child Car Seats are properly installed in their cars. A number of Optimists in the club are certified car safety seat inspectors. This program expanded to include the Child Seat Loaner program that helps needy families who can not otherwise afford a child seat. Today Samantha Wallace current President of the Optimist Club maintains over 1,000 seats available through Capital Health. Another project for special needs kids where if they excel in their school work are rewarded with special trips; these kids too are mostly from broken homes a lot are foster children. The Club has other projects to numerous to mention. They continue to raise their money mainly from Bingo's and Casinos. The closed Optimist Club with businessmen and the politicians are gone however are replaced with members of all types who are willing to be a "Friend of Youth".

Originally written in 1982; updated in 2004 and based on articles from 1925 to 2004.

The Dinner Optimist Club of Edmonon

Celebrate 90 Years of Optimism in Edmonton - November 2015