Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Belgian Club prepares for historic milestone

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IN 1905, Louis De Nobele and his father-in-law Theophile Elewaut suggested they form a club so that the Belgians who were arriving in Manitoba in larger numbers with each passing month would have a forum to meet each other and discuss their problems.

Ninety nine years later, the Belgian Club is still going strong. The club's roughly 5,000 current members, many of whom are descendents of the club's founders, are preparing for next year's centennial celebrations.

"It's a terrific milestone," said Bernice Spitaels, the club's secretary and a member of the centennial committee. "I think it's been able to survive so long because of the tradition of the Belgian community. Belgians are very strong family-oriented people. We have many families who have been members for generations."

One such member is Neil Pryce. While Pryce has been a member since 1987, his great, great grandfather Edward Lammens was one of the club's 45 original members.

Pryce said the club's purpose has not really changed over the past century.

"It still has its original purpose, it's still a meeting place for Belgians in the province," he said.

The club was formed in 1905 and first met in an old boarding house near the Bank Hotel on Lombard Avenue. It moved to St. Boniface, where most of the Belgians lived, in 1906 and the next year the membership purchased a tract of land on Provencher Boulevard for $1,600, including $200 for the house on the property.

The following year, construction began on the clubhouse that is still home to the club today. The building was completed in December 1908 with construction costs totaling less than $4,900, said Pryce.

Over the past 20 years, Pryce has been collecting old stories and photos that have to do with the club and its members. Some prominent members of the club have included Joseph Van Belleghem, the former mayor of St. Boniface, Robert Bockstael, former Liberal MP for St. Boniface, and Nicholas Pirotton, a sculptor and former St. Boniface alderman.

Pryce has been busy assembling the photos and stories into a presentation that will be ready when the club celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.

"It's going to be a celebration honouring our past members and the contribution they've made to the community," he said.

Spitaels, for her part, has also been collecting Belgian Club artifacts. She's hoping to put them into a picture book or slide presentation for the centennial celebrations, which will also likely include a gala ball and possibly the erection of a commemorative plaque.

Anyone who might have old photos or stories about members, or who has contact information for members, is asked to call Dolores at 256-8769

The club will be fundraising for the centennial celebrations when it again hosts its Belgian Folklorama pavilion from Aug. 8 to 14 at the club. Attractions will include demonstrations of Belgian bowling and pole archery, as well as chocolate, waffles, beer and even beer stew.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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