Now 91 years young, McConnell Beef Club is the longest continuously active club anywhere in Canada — even surviving its namesake. McConnell is officially listed as one of Manitoba’s ghost towns.
The club’s nine members and alumni will celebrate that accomplishment June 1 as part the 100th anniversary celebrations of 4-H in Canada. (The very first club, founded in Roland in 1913, has not been continuously active.)
“We may be even earlier than that, but we know for sure we were 1922,” said Kim McConnell, a club member in the mid-1960s who went on to co-found the marketing and communications firm AdFarm and was recently inducted into the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame.
McConnell, located an hour’s drive northwest of Brandon, today draws kids from as far away as Oakburn and Isabella. In Kim McConnell’s day, there were lots of farm kids in the area and, like him, many shared the name of the small village.
“North of town there, it was all McConnells,” he recalled.
The club was founded by Gordon Killoh, and he would have been in his late teens at the time, said his daughter, Agnes Bridge of Hamiota. He started the club after coming home from his studies at agricultural college for the farm year — where he would have learned the art of judging cattle.
While the McConnell part of the name has been in continuous use, the other part has changed over the years. It was a Boys and Girls Club in 1922 and became the Swine Club in 1925, before taking the Beef Club name in 1933.
Bridge said her most vivid memories date to the 1950s, when she was a young member learning to lead and show a calf. She remembers the Fat Stock Show Days, the club skit nights, and club suppers with tables laden with food brought by the local ladies.
They’ve kept a pretty steady membership over the years, but had their highs and lows too, said Margaret Boyd, whose lifetime involvement with the club — as a member in the 1940s, head leader’s spouse and a leader herself — means she can easily name which families sent how many kids in what decades.
“In the real early clubs, they ranged from a low of six to a high of 30,” said Boyd, who still has photos of herself showing a calf in the 1940s.
Boyd and husband Jack, the club’s leader from 1962 to 1994, are now the club’s historians and are extremely knowledgeable about the club’s extensive collection of historic artifacts.
Jack Boyd said he was always impressed with how enthusiastic the youngsters were to learn all they could about showing, handling, and care of their animals. Their learning in 4-H went beyond those skills too and it stuck with them, he said.
“They were a super bunch of kids,” he said. “One of the things that was really wonderful as far as I was concerned was that after the kids got out of 4-H and on their own, so many of them came back and said to us how it was a real benefit to have 4-H.”
Local cattle producer Kevin Hyndman is the current head leader, a role he took on in 2008.
Hyndman was never actually a member of the club as a youngster, but hung around at its Achievements and rallies because his friends were in it. His best memory is of the club’s annual bingo and dance nights held at the McConnell School.
“I lived for that — the place was packed,” said Hyndman, whose two daughters, Teegan, age six and Orianna, 13, are club members today.
Everybody got up to dance, including the kids when they weren’t running around and playing hide and seek, he said.
“When I went to university you knew the kids who were from the McConnell 4-H Club because they were the only ones who could dance,” he said. “They knew how to waltz and polka.”
Those dances don’t happen anymore. McConnell Beef Club doesn’t hold skit nights either. And nowadays, Achievement is held in nearby Strathclair.
The next generation will have different memories, but will still have the skills that 4-H teaches so well, said Hyndman.
“The big thing I see for kids who have 4-H is their organizational skills are better,” he said. “They know that a deadline means that I have to have something done. They have public speaking. And we’ve got kids in the club who are probably nine years old who know proper parliamentary procedure. I’m sure that kids who aren’t involved haven’t got a clue about any of that.”
Kim McConnell, who is donating the commemorative cairn for June 1, said the club was, and is, successful because of its leaders.
“Why McConnell Beef Club has done well and continues to do well is the leaders,” he said. “The leaders were the ones who made it fun. Without good leaders you’re never going to have good clubs.
“4-H provided me with an exceptional foundation and a lot of fun times. I’m extremely proud to say I’m a former member of the oldest 4-H club in Canada.”