The Espanola Knights of Columbus 3422 is disbanding.
Past Grand Knight Denis Bois says the Catholic men’s organization its dwindling membership and the effects of the pandemic led to the decision earlier this month.
As a last gesture of support to the community, he and two other members presented three cheques on Wednesday.
The first cheque for $20,000 was presented to École catholique La Renaissance and Sacred Heart to go towards the purchase of playground equipment for their common play space.
He says the second cheque to the Espanola Regional Hospital Foundation of $14,900 is for the new x-ray suite and palliative care, adding the organization is proud to recognize that donation as the official kick-off of the annual Moose 99.3 Radiothon set for December 3rd.
Bois adds the hall and equipment is up for sale with the process expected to take a few months.
Bois shared some history and personal observations of the Knights.
From the time the Knights of Columbus was chartered on March 29, 1882, in New Haven Connecticut by its founder Father Michael J. McGivney till the end of 1897, the Order had spread throughout New England, the upper Atlantic seaboard and into Canada. The earliest local historical records show the Espanola Knights of Columbus was well established in the early 1930’s under the Council number 2214. The exact founding date is unknown. This Catholic men’s organization continued to grow until it achieved its own Charter on May 13, 1951, under the council number 3422 which is still carried today. The founding Grand Knight at the time was Fred Paquette. It appears a new Grand Knight was elected about every two years in those days. Membership flourished in the 50’s and 60’s, fraternal activities and charitable functions were at their peak. In fact, a youth group for boys within the K of C called the Columbian Squires received its Charter in 1964: Squires Circle #1731.
Eventually a Fourth Degree Assembly was created: Fr J.J. Tourigny Assembly 897. These are the most visible Knights of Columbus which the public identifies with the long capes, feathered hats and ceremonial swords. However, the general “Core” or workhorse of the Knights of Columbus in Espanola is the present-day Council 3422 that contains the general membership.
In the early 1960’s the Knights of Columbus Youth Camp was built on Lang Lake. This was a summer camp for boys. Although the project was spearheaded by our local Council, it became a project that involved various members of the order within the Diocese of Sault Ste Marie, stretching from Wawa to North Bay. A camp committee made up of members from all over the North Shore built, maintained and operated the camp well into the 1970’s.
A long-standing past member, Ron Piché, was instrumental in the building of the camp, he remained an active executive camp committee member from the camp’s inception till the camp was shut down and sold. Another familiar name, Father Brian McKee managed the facility during the summers. The older generations will remember Fr McKee as a founding member of the “Flying Fathers” hockey team made up of priests from the province.
The familiar hall on the corner of Mead Blvd and Second Ave was rebuilt in 1955 after a fire severely damaged the facility. It was built to the size as seen today although the roof was flat, a peaked roof was eventually added. In 1966, the Espanola Columbus Club was incorporated and received its business charter as a non-profit organization. This corporation owns and manages the hall, its members are made up of Knights of Columbus registered with the Espanola council exclusively.
The Knights have hosted hundreds of events at the hall, many for charitable purposes, often fraternal events for its members or the hall was rented out. Regularly held dances with live music were popular from the 1950’s till the mid 90’s when interest began to wain. Disc jockeys slowly replaced live music, but the dances and celebrations continued. There was so much activity that a team of custodians were required to maintain and upkeep the facility. Some of these workers were volunteers, but most were paid. Historically many councils operated from their own hall, but over the past 20 years, operating costs, lack of funding for building repairs, lack of volunteer help and declining rentals made owning a hall increasingly cost prohibitive. These councils instead based their operation out of a church and became a parish council.
As the Espanola Council is chartered on its own and not based from any particular church as most councils are today, we support Church of St Jude in Espanola (Formerly St Louis de France and Good Shepherd), Church of St Lawrence in Webbwood, Church of Immaculate Conception in Massey and Eglise de Saint-Sébastien in Spanish.
Being a Knight is an honour. “Knights” would signify that the membership embodied knightly ideals of spirituality and service to the Church, country, and fellowman. The ideals of Columbianism are Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. A member is of service to the community and church. Our council has provided thousands of volunteer hours towards charitable causes, be it fundraising through activities such as dances, door to door fundraising drives for the Arthritis Society, building structures like the gazeboes for senior’s organizations, visiting the sick at home and at hospitals, supporting our local parishes.
Fundraising events like the Sportsman’s Stag which eventually became the Sportsman’s social, and the Valentine’s Spaghetti Supper, Elimination Draw and Dance that kicked off the town’s winter festival are local staples and have been held for decades. As fun as these events were, they supported many charities including Minor Hockey, our local Food Bank, the Espanola Regional Hospital, the Elk’s Christmas Hamper fund, the MCTV Christmas Telethon, radiothons, high school bursaries, Coats for Kids that provided children in need with winter wear, local Girl Guides of Canada and Scouts Canada, our area Churches, the list goes on.
Although not a fundraiser, the Espanola Council has hosted the annual Basketball Free Throw for the elementary and secondary schools of our area. The participating youth compete and work their way up from the local level matches to the district level of competition in the greater Sudbury area, then the Diocesan level stretching from Wawa to North Bay then eventually the province. This competition remains as popular now as when our Council first started the competition over 25 years ago.
These events as well as gatherings that take place in the background to manage activities rely on a solid group of members, all our members. Sadly, our existing membership is aging, recruitment has been in a decline for many years. It’s been expressed many times during business meetings that the “youngest member in attendance is consistently in his early sixties”. Despite the obvious humour in that statement, it rings of truth. A non secular, men’s only organization has its recruitment challenges, however fraternal groups and volunteering in general has lost its interest within the community. People are under greater pressures to divide their time between family and work, especially in situations where both parents work. Free time is at a premium.
Operating a non-profit corporation like the Columbus Club and to maintain it, addressing public liability responsibilities, maintain a deficit free budget, dealing with declining rentals requires dedication and many hours of work. The corporation no longer has the volunteer resources to continue operating.
Sadly, its source of manpower is the Knights of Columbus Council 3422 membership which, as noted, is aging and in membership decline. The council can no longer sustain itself.
It is shocking for our membership to see the selling of the hall, the dissolution of the Corporation and the closing of Council 3422. It is understood however, most importantly among our senior members, that the time has now come for this great group to come to an end.
We are forever indebted to the community at large that has supported us in all our activities. We especially want to thank our community partner, Tony’s Snack Bar, who has worked with us for years now in our fundraising efforts with hosting of the “Nevada Boxes”, maintaining the required paperwork with the government to help our community.
Finally, thanks to our membership, my friends. They are great Catholic men, empathetic and loving, with a solid work ethic. Without their help and dedication to our ideals, the local council would never have existed. You are all forever in my heart.
Denis Bois / Past Grand Knight.
Past Grand Knight Denis Bois of the Espanola Knights of Columbus spent some of this past weekend putting together an album of the many events and members hosted by the organization, which was originally founded decades ago in Espanola. Thank you for providing the photos and the permissions to post them on behalf of the Knights.