Burrard Toastmasters
Vancouver's leading business-oriented public speaking club
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Club History

History of Burrard Toastmasters No. 1892
Club History Video
Important Figures In Club History

History of Burrard Toastmasters No. 1892

The club was chartered in May 1958 and began meeting in the resonant auditorium of the newly completed BC Electric building at 970 Burrard Street (this is now the residential tower Electra). The auditorium was rather large, and this permitted up to 45 participants in a horseshoe table setting, the arrangement of which the club has retained to this day. The club's present timing device was constructed for the club's second meeting.

Meetings began at 5:45 pm and a meal was served during Table Topics. The meeting typically ended at 7:15 pm, although evaluations sometimes continued late into the night at the Century Plaza hotel across the street. Twice yearly, the club held a Halloween party and a Spring Guest night at the "Circuit Breaker" social club on Hornby Street. The Circuit Breaker was famous for having twelve-foot billiards tables. In result, speaking roles at the parties were highly coveted - it took a good speaker to rivet the audience away from up to four pool games at once. Sadly, the legendary Circuit Breaker was demolished in 1989.

The club survived several renovations of the BC Electric auditorium. Renovations were hotly protested, because not only did they require the club to meet in the cafeteria during construction, each 'improvement' reduced the natural acoustics even further, making it difficult to speak.

In 1988 the BC Electric building was sold and the club took up lodgings at BC Hydro's new headquarters, 330 Dunsmuir Street. The new environment was a large training room and several clubs met there on alternate nights. However, after a few years, all the clubs noted a drop in attendance, and in 1992, after negotiations by Malcolm Parker, Burrard Toastmasters made a fateful decision to leave BC Hydro, and we began meeting in the YWCA at 490 Burrard Street. In 1995 construction began on a brand new YWCA, and Burrard Toastmasters has been located here since the building opened.

The meeting format is essentially unchanged from the day of charter. From time to time there are slight improvements (for example, a minute is now allowed between speakers for written comments) but otherwise the agenda roles remain the same as they were for our first members. Burrard is distinct from other clubs in several ways. First of all, our President chairs all meetings, unlike other clubs where the chair is selected at random. This leads to a more consistent meeting experience and deeper awareness of the responsibilities of the Chair. Secondly, we have a VP Mentorship, who is responsible for pairing new members with experienced ones to help them on their Toastmasters journey. And, though we stand on protocol and parliamentary procedure to a greater degree than other clubs, our ultimate commitment is not to gimmicks but to a congenial and rewarding boardroom experience.

Club History Video

Watch a presentation of our club's history at our 2018 Diamond Jubilee (60th Anniversary) banquet. Even though the presentation was cut short due to time constraints, you will still be able to learn about the club's history, its past members, and the important events that shaped it.

To see the entire slide presentation, please download the slideshow.




Important Figures In Club History

Harold James (HJ) Merilees (January 5, 1908 - September 19, 1972)
Harold James Merilees was an advertising executive and political figure in BC. He represented Vancouver-Burrard in the Legislative Assembly of BC from 1969 to 1972 as a Social Credit member.

Born in Vancouver, Merilees worked in advertising and public relations for David Spencer Ltd. In 1931, he became manager of the Public Information department for the BC Electric Railway Company. From 1941 to 1945, he ran the war savings campaign for the National War Finance Committee of Vancouver. Merilees was associated with the promotion of Vancouver's Diamond Jubilee in 1946, the 1954 British Empire Games, the 1958 BC Centennial celebrations and the United Red Feather Appeal. He was President and General Manager of the Vancouver Tourist Bureau from 1960 to 1968. Merilees founded the Vancouver Sea Festival in 1962. He died in Vancouver at the age of 64.

Tourism Vancouver presents the Harold J. Merilees Memorial Award to honour outstanding contributions to awareness of the Greater Vancouver area. Every year, Burrard Toastmasters presents the HJ Merilees Merit Trophy to the most improved speaker, as voted by club ballot.