ROLAND -- That this small Pembina Valley village holds bragging rights as the oldest 4-H club in Canada is an honour, indeed.
But less mentioned is that Roland was Canada's first 4-H club by just a matter of days. Seven other 4-H clubs started up in Manitoba that year, 1913, in the towns of Darlingford, Manitou, Neepawa, Oak Lake, Starbuck, Stonewall and Warren.
The suspicion is Roland was first due to the urgency of a certain government employee, E. Ward Jones of the Department of Agriculture that started the programs to help a local school teacher here.
Teacher Adelaide Graham was going to be the 4-H leader in Roland. The secretly smitten Jones offered her every assistance. His enthusiasm for launching a 4-H program in Roland was exceeded only by his ardour to see her as often as possible. Their romance was springboard to both wedded bliss and Roland starting the first 4-H Club in Canada.
Roland will again be the centre of the 4-H universe later this month when the club celebrates its 100th anniversary in Canada.
What is 4-H? The common image of 4-H is of kids feeding and grooming livestock to compete for coloured ribbons at a country fair. (The old lounge-singer joke is of the singer telling the audience there's a 4-H convention at the hotel that weekend. "They're a bunch of animals," goes the punchline.) But it's much more than that.
It's basically a youth club with a rural and agricultural bias. It began largely as training to be a farmer, but its programs are much more diffuse today with emphasis on life skills.
The four Hs come from the pledge: "I pledge: my HEAD to clearer thinking; my HEART to greater loyalty; my HANDS to larger service; my HEALTH to better living. For my club, my community and my country."
Its abiding principle is hands-on learning. Its stated motto is to "learn to do by doing." Playing on the computer does not count as "doing."
There are unique programs such as the "speaking up" program, valuable instruction for shy writer types and others.
Another program teaches kids about small engines. William Dyck, 10, can already maintain a lawn-mower engine, thanks to 4-H. "You take the engine apart, look at the parts, take out the spark plug, clean the air filter and change the oil," he explained.
Public speaking and speech writing are right up there with tending animals. Emily Stewart, 15, is raising rabbits for pets. Nelson Wilton, 14, started with an egg carton of a dozen chicks and raised them to the layer stage last year, says mom, Linda. This year he's got 75 broilers he's raising to sell as roasters.
4-H is free. Kids only have to help fundraise. "A lot of kids don't play hockey or other sports, so it's something for them," said Kyla Orchard, club leader in Roland.
4-H depends on people such as Orchard. She was a 4-H member herself for nine years until she was 18. She has since been a 4-H leader for 16 years and curator of the 4-H museum here since 1997. It's a small museum, housed in a former Bank of Hamilton building constructed in 1902, open from 1-4 p.m., Monday to Friday in July and August.
4-H clubs have fallen off a bit over the years, like many clubs, but are in no threat of extinction. There are still more than 200 4-H clubs in Manitoba, with more than 3,500 members. More than half live on farms, about 30 per cent live in rural non-farm areas, and 14 per cent are urban. The most popular programs are in beef, horses, food and woodworking.
The 100th anniversary party runs from May 29-31. It includes a May 30 banquet and gala with speaker Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut, at the Fairmont hotel in Winnipeg, and a May 31 celebration at the Roland 4-H Museum.
More information is available at www.4h.mb.ca.