Best-known for the fez they wear on their heads, Shriners can be seen wearing sunglasses and driving go-karts in advertisement commercials on television channels like A&E. Appearances aside, the organization is serious about one thing – helping children.
The Oshawa Shriners, all 130 of them, make it their duty to help the families of children in need of medical care. The club lives by the motto, ‘No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child’. Shriners cover the cost of operations and travel entirely for families who can’t afford them.
But the club says some of the families they deal with sometimes get cold feet. According to hospital coordinator Douglas J. Sommerville, the families change their mind when they learn the Shriners Hospital-Canada is in Montreal, 491 kilometres away.
“They ask ‘why can’t we do it here at (Toronto’s) SickKids?’,” says Sommerville. “Our doctors are specialized in orthopaedics. If you take your kids to a walk-in clinic you won’t get that same quality care. I don’t know why [they don’t do it]. The families can go too and stay at a hotel, it’s all free.”
He believes it might have something to do with the distance between the club and the Shriners’ hospital being in Montreal.
“That’s what I think. If there’s anything else I don’t know,” the hospital coordinator says.
Sommerville has been with the Shriners for more than a decade, a period during which he was once president of the club. As hospital coordinator his job is to ensure children are transferred to Montreal to get the care they need.
The fact that some families turn their cheek to the Shriners’ help doesn’t distract them from their mission. The local Shriners continue to donate to charities and their Montreal hospital.
“We give to charities, but we mostly donate to the hospital because we know where that money is going,” Sommerville explains.
He says last year alone the Oshawa Shriners were able to raise $15,000 for the Shriners Hospital-Canada.
“If your family has a child that needs orthopaedic surgery like scoliosis, you fill up a document and it goes to Montreal where it is reviewed by the medical staff. You get a letter fairly quickly in a few weeks,” he says.
The Shriners’ favourite time of the year is Christmas. Each year they go down to the hospital in Montreal and bring toys for the children.
“We were able to gift 21 tablets to the hospital so children could communicate with their friends and family,” says Oshawa hall manager Janet Sommerville.
Sommerville recalls a particular instance where the Shriners were able to make a difference.
“There was this little Ukrainian boy. He and his brother were playing and came across grenades,” says Sommerville. “He picked up the grenade with his hands and his arms blew off. His brother died. We were able to take him to the hospital and get him new limbs. Now he’s smiling and I don’t know if he’ll go back to Ukraine.”
Besides the Shriners Hospital-Canada in Montreal, the club also supports numerous other hospitals.
“We support 123 hospitals. Everything is free for the kids until they’re 21-years old, all the back and forth (to and from) the hospital,” says club ambassador Robert E. “Bob” Jones.
Ontario also has its fair share of Shrine clubs.
“We have 34 clubs in Ontario spread from Niagara to Timmins, from Guelph to Kingston. Each club sends money during the year to the Shriners hospital,” says Jones.
Last year the Shriners completed a new hospital in Montreal. It supports all of Canada as well the east coast of the United States.
“We just built a new hospital in Montreal for $138 million approximately. We’ve had a hospital in Montreal since 1925. It’s a long-standing history,” he says.
The Shriners began in 1870 as a fraternity in 1870 in Manhattan, New York and is now a fraternity with more than 350,000 members worldwide. Famous Shriners include astronaut Buzz Aldrin and musicians Brad Paisley and Kris Kristofferson.
Oshawa’s very own Shrine club goes back to 1944. At the time they would rent a room at the Genosha hotel on King St. E. where they held meetings.
One needs to be mason before he can apply to be a Shriner.
“We have to be a mason first, apply and then you go through three levels of Masons. Then you can apply to be a Shriner,” says Douglas Sommerville. “You have to be a mason first and then keep your masonic membership licence up.”