The director of the Winnipeg club will seek legal protection for the decision to admit the first women members after a 145-year ban

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A private club in Winnipeg is so divided over the decision to admit women to membership after a 145-year ban, that the group’s executive is going to court to seek a court plea to prevent the decision from being overturned.

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The question of whether women should become members has sparked a heated dispute at Winnipeg’s St. Andrews Society, a 145-year-old society that promotes and preserves Scottish heritage.

The club is the oldest active Scottish society west of Toronto, and one of the “very, very few St. Andrews societies in the world” that is exclusively for men, president James Christie said.

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The number of applications has increased by leaps and bounds

“In recent years, one of the things that we were very aware of is that in Winnipeg, we hadn’t been able to keep up with a world that was changing quite adequately,” he said. The men-only society also did not reflect the “largely matrilineal” history of the Scots and Celts, he added.

However, a small group of dissident members, including former presidents, are fighting the society’s decision.

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They have done everything from disrupting events to calling meetings aimed at removing elected officials and board members, Christie said.

The last straw was the group’s plan to hold a “men’s only” dinner a week before the society’s main fundraising dinner, he said.

Credit: Courtesy of the Winnipeg Society of St. Andrew
Credit: Courtesy of the Winnipeg Society of St. Andrew

Empowering dissenters is what Christie describes as a “curiously phrased and easily misconstrued element of the company’s bylaws that suggests that past presidents form an advisory group, and that advisory group has the right to veto changes to the structure.” and the politics of society.

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He said: “The group’s actions eventually reached such an intolerable level of disruption that we took steps to take the offending statute to a judge for a ruling on its validity.”

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Dissidents are also being disciplined, including expulsion from the club. “Happily, his influence seems to be waning,” the president said.

The society welcomed its first four female members last week and expects four more this week.

Community response to the change has been overwhelmingly positive and the society is also enjoying an increase in membership, the president said.

“The number of applications has increased by leaps and bounds,” he said. “In the short term, we have never seen so many applications for membership.”

The society is also looking forward to the new perspective that the female members will present, Christie said.

He said a late member of the club, David Mann, perhaps put it best when speaking in favor of admitting women to the club: “If Canada really is one of the best countries in the world to live in, in terms of quality of life and opportunity: That’s no small feat because in the last generation, as a country, we’ve doubled our talent pool.”

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