Perth Elks mark 70 years with open house

·4 min read

While the last two years admittedly presented challenges, Perth Elks Lodge #362 remains a solid and vibrant organization, as it has been since its founding on May 28, 1952.

Spirits ran high on Saturday, July 9, as the Perth Elks hosted an open house at its well-maintained lodge and grounds on East Riverside Drive in Perth-Andover to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

During an era when service organizations struggle to find members, the Perth Elks Lodge boasts a membership of more than 100, surpassing the 80 members of the newly established lodge seven decades earlier.

"We're one of the biggest (Elks Lodges) in the Maritimes," said Jonny Gagnon, the most recent Past Exalted Leader of Lodge 362. The incoming Exalted Ruller Victoria Broad could not attend the event.

Gagnon said support for the Perth Elks fundraising efforts comes from beyond its membership. He said people understand the value of the Elks' contributions to community programs, including the food bank, school breakfast programs, sports and other charitable efforts.

Gagnon said the Perth Elks focus heavily on children and youth.

Saturday's open house took on an extra dimension beyond the 70th anniversary. It showcased the lodge's recent return to public gatherings.

Gagnon said the Perth Elks, like all organizations and businesses, struggled through two years of COVID, which kept the lodge closed and social gathering next to impossible.

"We had to get creative with our fundraising," he said.

Gagnon said the lodge conducted most meetings virtually and found new ways to raise funds. While the club could no longer host the popular Elks dinners, they continued with the meals.

"We just did it by takeout or free delivery," he said.

The rental of the elegant hall, which served as a dependable source of revenue, disappeared during the pandemic.

"We're getting bookings again," he said.

Ron Gaunce, a Past Exalted Ruler and current Elks provincial president, is one of the most familiar faces within the Elks and Perth-Andover communities. One of the longest-serving members, he loved greeting families for a day of games and socializing.

Gaunce happily shared Lodge 362's rich history, pointing proudly to a section of the event brochure which included the most recent 10-year donation history.

Between 2012 and 2022, the lodge donated more than $116,000 to local causes. Gaunce noted that it represents only the last of seven decades.

"Ron Gaunce is what the Elks is all about said," said Elk Al McPhail when he invited the provincial president to say a few words during a series of brief presentations.

Gaunce noted membership remains strong at Perth Elks but acknowledged the need for younger members. He pointed to the many photos of Exalted Rulers lining the lodge's walls.

"Look at that wall," he said. "When they joined in 1952, most were in their 20s."

Gaunce also reminded those in attendance that support is not limited to members. He said anyone could come anytime to help. He cited the many congratulatory emails from who he described as the 35 or 40 "friends of the Elks."

Elks membership chairman Janet Gee welcomed visitors for the day's festivities. She said the lodge enjoys support from the public, which knows it can depend on the service organization.

"Elks recognize when there's a need," she said.

She said the lodge helps with the Food Smart program, donating its building as a pick-up location.

Families attending the day enjoyed the near-perfect summer conditions under bright sunshine. They participated in free games, including a dunking booth, washer toss, facing painting and a bouncy castle.

Elks volunteers served free burgers, hot dogs and soft drinks.

Singer-songwriter Aaron Crain and Perth Elks member Wes McLean provided entertainment. Gaunce, Gagnon, Paul Kinney and Carleton Victoria MLA and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Margaret Johnson cut and served birthday cake.

Johnson commended the Elks for their many years of excellent work supporting the Perth-Andover community.

Sheila Cummings, representing the village of Perth-Andover, said, "we want to express our appreciation of you."

In addition to providing entertainment, McLean delivered a message on behalf of Tobique-Mactaquac MP Richard Bragdon, who could not attend.

McLean said the Perth Elks Lodge enhances a sense of community.

"Community doesn't just happen," he said. "It's something that has to be organized."

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting