Local Castor charity celebrates nearly a century

Going for 95 years, the Elks has supported many community organizations over the years

The Elks of Castor as a charity has helped many community members in need over the years, including Katie Hein, who is still in the community. The Elks helped Katie acquire a specialty wheelchair, as per this Castor Advance clipping from the 1980s.

The Elks of Castor as a charity has helped many community members in need over the years, including Katie Hein, who is still in the community. The Elks helped Katie acquire a specialty wheelchair, as per this Castor Advance clipping from the 1980s.

By Kevin J. Sabo

For the Advance

On Oct. 11, 1926, the Elks Club of Castor received its charter, its inaugural meeting held in the basement of the hotel.

The Castor Elks Club is one of over 245 lodges that have spread across Canada since the Elks of Canada was founded as a fraternal organization in September of 1912 with a focus on family and community building.

Originally founded with 61 members, the Castor Elks have numbered between 25 and 60 members over the years, and currently sit around 30.

“When I first joined, we had about 40 members,” said current Elks Exalted Ruler Mike Courtenay.

Going for 95 years, the Elks has supported many community organizations over the years, including the Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital, the Paintearth Lodge, and Castor Volunteer Fire Rescue. In 2021, the organization started a new project as well.

“This spring we started something new,” said Courtenay.

“We participated in the Alberta Highway clean-up. We picked up the garbage in the ditches in a section of Highway 599 outside of Castor to Highway 36. That was pretty successful.”

One project that the Castor Elks continues to run annually is the Elks cash-draw, with tickets sold every fall and the prizes announced on Boxing Day every year. The draw, entering its 45th year, usually raises about $1000 for the Elks club, which then goes back to the community.

“The tickets will be coming out shortly,” said 51-year Castor Elks veteran Phil Dietz.

“We’ve donated around $44,000 back to the community (through the draw).”

The cash draw began as an off-shoot of the Elks Boxing Day Dance, which used to be held at the old community hall. Unfortunately, over the years numbers dropped off and running the dance became unfeasible; however, the cash draw continued.

Another long-term project of the Castor Elks, currently on hold due to the ongoing pandemic, is the bingo run out of the Golden Circle building.

“Since 1986 we’ve also had the bingo,” said Dietz. “With COVID, we’ve been shut down for almost two years.”

Still, despite the decreasing numbers over the last few years prior to the shut-down of the project, according to Courtenay, the Elks intends to bring the bingos back when the health restrictions allow.

“The bingos at one time were a major and regular source of funding for us,” said Courtenay.

“The last few years, the bingo numbers have been declining. We really don’t make a lot of money off of it, but we kind of regard it as a service to the community to the people who enjoy bingo. We give them the opportunity to get out and get together.”

Another long-term project the Castor Elks has been working on in the community is the Elks Park, beside the Castor Swimming Pool. The park, built back in the 1940s or 1950s, was set up and is mainly maintained by the Elks, with minimal support from the Town.

“Several generations have played at that park. It was built back before I joined,” said Dietz, who joined the club in 1971.

“We never used to have much playground equipment or fencing in there. We put that in there. In 1995 we spent $11,000 on that playground.”

The Elks of Castor have a caretaker who looks after the park, doing things like repairing equipment and cutting the lawn. The Town of Castor provides support by emptying the garages during their garbage runs.

In addition to local projects, the Elks support community building initiatives on the provincial and national level.

Provincially, the Alberta Elks support the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research, which helps youth with speech issues.

Nationally, the Elks support the Elks & Royal Purple Fund for Children, which helps youth with hearing and speech-related medical disorders until they are 19-years-old.

Also nationally is the Elks ‘Tabs for Tots’ program, which raises money by collecting and melting down pop-can tabs. In Castor, the pop-can tabs and clean tinfoil can be dropped off at O.K. Tire.

When the Elks was initially founded in 1912, it was a fraternal organization, a brotherhood.

However, like any organization that has been around for as long as it has, changes have occurred over time; one of the largest occurring in 1998, with a national Elks referendum passing which asked whether the word ‘male’ should be removed from its constitution.

Since that time, women have been welcomed into the fold, with even Castor having several women members.

“They are playing a role in the Elks now, too, which is good to see,” said Courtenay.

“They’ve brought new perspective and new energies to the lodge. It’s been really good.”

The Castor Elks are always looking for new members.

They meet the second Tuesday of the month at the Castor Legion at 7:30 p.m. To join, an applicant must fill out an application which is then voted on by the membership for approval.