A former member of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg is hoping to bring one of the city's oldest institutions back from the dead.
The non-profit, apolitical organization was "100 per cent broke" 18 months ago when Jim Brennan decided to try reviving it. It hadn't hosted a luncheon in many months and those that were held were increasingly poorly attended.
No sense coming back with anything less than a bang, so the first luncheon under Brennan's watch -- thanks to a few strings pulled by University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy -- features none other than former Manitoba premier and current Canadian ambassador to the United States Gary Doer, Dec. 6 at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.
"He's the Mick Jagger of Manitoba politics," Brennan said.
One high-profile luncheon does not a comeback make, so Brennan has a taken a few other steps he believes are crucial in re-establishing the Canadian Club as a viable entity.
First, he has formed a new board of committed directors. Second, he persuaded Philip Lee, Manitoba's lieutenant-governor, to be its honorary patron. Third, he has returned the annual membership price to $40, less than half the $85 it cost a couple of years ago.
He has also made an overture to the Women's Canadian Club of Winnipeg, which has about 50 members, and asked about one of them sitting on his board.
"I think it's important to come together. Every club I know argues that it doesn't have enough members. Why have two clubs with the same name just because it's men and women? That's a little old-fashioned, isn't it? Let's do it together," he said.
He has negotiated the use of an office at the United Way headquarters on Main Street and will be able to use its boardroom when required.
The last time the Canadian Club hosted a luncheon was in the spring of 2011 when another former premier, Howard Pawley, was the speaker.
At the time, the Canadian Club had about 250 members, a far cry from the 625 in 2001.
Not long after the Pawley luncheon, the board called a meeting and decided to cease operations. That session was led by Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
"We found the competition too much. The people who can afford to go to a lunch have too many options now. There's the mayor's state of the union lunch and the Winnipeg Chamber is doing lunches now, too. We weren't breaking even on some lunches and we saw a long, dark road of going down to nothing," he said.
McDonald, however, supports Brennan's efforts and said he will renew his membership. In particular, he likes his idea of fewer but bigger lunches every year -- say, one in the spring and another in the fall -- instead of seven or eight monthly events.
The big draws are typically political, including Bob Rae and Paul Martin, and some are business-oriented, such as Leonard Asper, but crowds dropped off for sports and entertainment figures, Brennan said.
He is confident audiences will return once the word gets out.
"We will get members. The evidence is on my (voice mail)," he said.
He hopes the big-name speakers will keep coming. A request has been sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office for him to speak this winter.
"He's the only prime minister who has not spoken to the Canadian Club of Winnipeg. We've had every prime minister for the last 100 years."