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Sea to Sky Rotary clubs make lemonade out of lemons

Even as COVID-19 paused in-person fundraisers, clubs exceeded their annual targets
N-Rotary Clubs 28.40 SUBMITTED
Rotary International district 5040 governor Lorne Calder, left,with Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium president David Stein.

You could say that Rotary clubs are inherently social organizations, and that is especially true for the Sea to Sky, where the four respective clubs—two in Whistler, along with ones in Pemberton and Squamish—regularly meet face to face and organize events to support their local communities and beyond. 

Like so many things over the past 19 months, COVID-19 put a pause to that. 

“We’re people people and we like to do things in-person and do projects together in-person, and we haven’t been able to do that,” said David Stein, president of the Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium, one of two resort clubs, along with the Rotary Club of Whistler. 

Without the ability to meet under one roof until recently, the corridor’s clubs made the switch to online, which, in fitting with the transient nature of this part of the world, actually increased their accessibility. 

“[In Whistler], they really have two types of membership, where one comes for the snow season and the other one goes away, and so it’s quite complementary,” said Lorne Calder, governor of Rotary International’s 5040 district, who was recently in town visiting the local clubs. “I did a Zoom presentation … with the Whistler Millennium Club, and of the 14 people that were in attendance, only two were actually physically in Whistler. The other 12 were either in Europe, back east or back on the island. It was amazing, the resilience.” 

That resilience was necessary in a year of limited in-person events, a crucial fundraising stream for the clubs. The Rotary Club of Whistler, for instance, was unable to host its usual pancake breakfast fundraisers or its signature jazz night at Dusty’s, which typically brings in more than $15,000, said president Gill Forester. 

“We just started to think about what we could do to keep our members interested and keep them active, so we had a series of Zoom parties,” she added.

In spite of the challenges, both Whistler clubs, as well as Pemberton, will be receiving Rotary citations this year, which requires them to achieve more than 13 stated goals that can range from hitting fundraising targets to youth support and volunteerism.  

All the local clubs have several notable projects on the go, and their reach spans the community, corridor and the globe. The Rotary Club of Whistler raised $10,000 for a refrigerated truck that will aid the local food bank, and another $10,000—and counting—for a marshland viewing platform that is expected to be built this spring near Function Junction, to list a few. The Pemberton club just held its annual golf tournament and is contributing around $30,000 for a new fieldhouse at Den Duyf Park. The Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium, meanwhile, continues to raise funds for local organizations such as the Whistler Community Services Society and the Whistler Health Care Foundation, and, through Rotary International, recently helped fund a water-sanitation project in Uganda. 

“Being Rotary, our reach is worldwide,” Stein said. “We’re pretty broad with who we can fund and we can assist and the kind of progress we’ll do, whether it’s local, it’s somewhere else in the province, or all around the world. That’s what got me interested.” 

Between the four Sea to Sky clubs, more than $126,000 was raised for a variety of initiatives last year. 

“They may be small in size, but they get a lot done. And I really do think that they would like to have more help,” Calder noted. 

Recruitment had been a challenge locally even prior to the pandemic, and the organizations are hopeful to add an injection of youth to the membership. 

“They are finding it harder to get the younger demographic because they’re in their lifecycle stages where they are raising families and they’re combining work and balancing life issues,” Calder said. “It’s been really hard to get our project ideas and what we’re doing on the ground out into the public eye. We need more media attention, social media attention. We need to spend more time bragging about ourselves.” 

To learn more about joining a club in your community, visit for the Rotary Club of Whistler; for the Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium; and for the Rotary Club of Pemberton.