Lions Club International will cease supporting Lioness clubs as of June 2021, requiring them to join a nearby Lions club, re-register as their own Lions club, or disband. The Port McNeill Lionesses have decided to disband after 52 years of service.
The women’s service group was established in 1968 as a parallel to the Lions club, because at that time only men were permitted to join. Lioness chapters, then called Lady Lions, were started all over the world, including northern Vancouver Island. There were clubs in Port Alice, Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula, you name it. Eventually they all folded, leaving the Port McNeill Lionesses as the last women standing.
Now, women are welcome in Lions clubs, but that invitation was not extended until 1987.
“We all thought it was ludicrous,” said Lioness club president Christina Hinton. By then the Lionesses had been serving Port McNeill for almost 20 years, so they just kept on going.
Since 1991, Lions Club International has been encouraging the Lioness auxiliary clubs to join as “full-fledged Lions,” but still many Lioness clubs resisted. According to a Lions Club document, many Lioness groups “expressed feelings of abandonment and disregard; for some, it was enough to call it quits.” The tip sheet is written as a recruitment guide for Lions to recruit Lionesses, encouraging them to be sensitive to the history.
As for the Port McNeill Lionesses, the 15 members who remain made the hard decision to disband.
”We’re all over 65, some of us are in our 80s. And they’ve said, ‘Nope, we’re done. If somebody calls and needs our help, I’m there, but I don’t want to join a new club,’ ” Hinton said.
Some members are considering joining the Port McNeill Lions, but aren’t ready to commit.
The club’s largest event in recent years has been the Christmas Craft Fair. Vendors from as far south as Victoria come up for the bazaar, with hundreds of people wandering through the stalls.
Years ago, the Lionesses would make food for events, such as memorials, luncheons and sports games. They even used to cater big corporate Christmas parties, which was a great source of fundraising.
“We had so much fun. We were a group of ladies who, it didn’t matter what, we’d do it. We entered crazy parades, we were always together in a pinch. It was the fun and the laughter and getting together for picnics and that’s what I’m going to miss,” Hinton said.
As they wind down, one mark of their service to the community will endure, at least for a few years. All the money left in the account will be directed to the Lioness North Island Secondary School bursary. Hinton expects it to last for three years.
While it is the end of an era, the Lionesses are still here, just without the name.
“We haven’t gone anywhere. If you need us, just call.”
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