Our History

Beginning of Zonta International

In Buffalo, NY in Jan. 1919, five women guests at a Kiwanis social conceived of a new service club- one composed of all women who were recognized leaders in business and the professions.  The purpose was to be the standardization and dissemination of business principles & practices and to provide service to humanity through cooperative efforts. 

 During the spring & summer of 1919, clubs were organized in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, Elmira & Syracuse, NY.  The Confederation of Zonta Clubs was thus founded on November 08, 1919 in Buffalo. Its first theme was education for girls and young women. 

Chartering of Zonta Club of Hamilton

Service through organization

Our club was very active in the past with starting other Zonta clubs

  • 1929 ZC of St Catharines
  • 1951 ZC of Galt-Preston (became ZC of Cambridge)
  • 1959 ZC of Oakville (later disbanded and reorganized by ZC of Burlington)
  • 1960 ZC of Woodstock
  • 1962 ZC of Stratford (later disbanded, but reorganized by member Judy Lindsay in 2000)
  • 1963 ZC of Burlington
  • 1971 ZC of Hamilton 2 (became the first 2 club in North America and we became Hamilton 1)
  • 1982 ZC of Freeport/Lucaya Bahamas (organized by Joan Heels (then a member of ZC of Montreal) with help from her mother, our member Mary Heels)

A spotlight on some members from our past… to be regularly rotated..

Dr Mary Keyes

Dr Mary Keyes was a key figure in the development of women’s sports at McMaster University and continued until her death on February 11, 2002.  She died at age 61, after 38 years of service, just six months prior to her retirement.

Dr Keyes joined the Zonta Club of Hamilton 1 while working at McMaster University and remained a valued member of the Club until her death.  Dr Keyes was involved in many key positions with the Zonta Club of Hamilton 1 including acting as Club President 1988 to 1989.   She lead with enthusiasm, clarity and open communication always respecting the diversity and interests of all members and meeting the goals of Zonta International.

Judy Lindsay, January 5, 2021

Information from:

  • Obituary
  • Daily News, McMaster University
  • Club Historian

Olga Cloke

Olga Cloke was a woman of great executive ability and was passionate about being involved in her community.  Olga was President of the Zonta Club of Hamilton 1 (1959-1960) and the Governor of District 4 (1967 – 1969).   She held several positions with Zonta International and assisted International in many ways.   Some of these highlights are:

  • Historian for District 4
  • Chartered the Zonta Club of Woodstock -June 4, 1960, in partnership with Mary Smale.
  • Presented a gift to the Zonta Club of Tokyo at their charter dinner.
  • Installed officers and presented gift of charter to the Zonta Club of Istanbul.
  • Chaired International Nominating Committee – 1970 – 1972.

Olga was passionate about being involved in her community and was the past chair of the YWCA Hamilton Building Campaign, as well as past District Commissioner of the Hamilton Girl Guides Association.

The Olga Cloke Bursary was established by the Cloke Family in 1971 to celebrate Olga’s 75th birthday. After Olga’s passing in 1974, YWCA Hamilton established an endowment fund in memory of Olga Cloke.  Each Spring, YWCA Hamilton and the Zonta Club of Hamilton 1 present a bursary in the name of Olga Cloke.

Judy Lindsay-January 5, 2021.

Information from

  • Brief History of the Zonta Club of Hamilton 1
  • Information on Zonta Club of Woodstock
  • Club Historian
  • YWCA – Olga Cloke Bursary Information

Some long lasting service projects

1946 to 1966 Stewart Memorial Church

From 1946 until 1966, we assisted Stewart Memorial Church. The Church was founded in 1835 by fugitive slaves and free black men and women.

1950 to 1988 Salvation Army

  • for almost 40 years, the club contributed to the Salvation Army at Christmas time.

1955 to 1999 Citizenship Court

  • for many years, we acted as hostesses for a reception for new Canadians after their citizenship ceremony
  • provided brochures to new citizens with information about the Government in Canada at municipal, provincial and federal level
  • original brochure was drawn up by Agnes Hay, an honorary member of the club. It contained information about Canada as to government,population, area, political parties, and laws of the country. It also contained information about Zonta

1968 to 1998 Junior Achievement

For many years we supplied money and talent to Junior Achievement.  JA is dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices.

  • for many years, one of our members sat on the board of the local chapter of Junior Achievement (Irene Watson for 13 years)
  • 1969- established an annual scholarship
  • supplied judges annually for their program

1998 to 2018 Zonta Classic

In 1998, the ZC of Hamilton 1 took up a challenge to all clubs in the District from the ZC of Kitchener-Waterloo. For five years, they had hosted a women’s only golf tournament to raise money for breast cancer projects in honour of their past member Betty Thompson (Miss Betty from Romper Room). Our club orgainized the 5 clubs in Area 2 to assist us. The first of our tournaments took place at Glen Abbey GCC, and Bell and Wilson Sports were our major sponsors. In the first four years, our tournament was called the Bell Classic, and we raised $325,000 for breast cancer projects.

In the fifth year, each club decided to host their own tournaments. The ZC of Hamilton 1 renamed the tournament the Zonta Classic. Over the next seventeen years we earned over $500,000 which was donated to many breast cancer projects. For the final two years, we changed to focus to women’s mental health.


2010 Hummingbird Ball Honouree

The Zonta Club spent many years donating to breast cancer projects. In 1994, $20,000 was donated to pay for a van to transport women to the Ontario Breast ScreeningCilnic. Our members also volunteered for many years to drive the van. In 1998, we spearheaded the Bell Classic (became the Zonta Classic), a women’s only golf tournament raising money for breast cancer projects. Over the next twenty years, the tournament raised $850,000 for breast cancer projects.

We were extremely pleased in 2010 to be the recipients of The Hummingbird Ball award. We were guests of Hamilton Health Sciences at a gala called A Latin Fiesta. President Anita Isaac accepted the award on our behalf.

Teddy Bear's picnic at Chedoke

From 1992 until 2001, MUMC hosted the annual Teddy Bears Picnic for children. A special feature of this picnic was the free Teddy Bears’ Hospital. Neighbourhood children were encouraged to bring their bears to the admitting tent. There they received a Teddy Bear Medical Chart and specially trained staff demonstrated the use of real equipment and hospital procedures to treat bear ailments. Zonta members attended for the first few years to distribute information about Zonta International. The picture is from 1993.

2004 Launch of "There's Got to be a Better Way"

In 2002 the club was the recipient of a grant from Zonta International (one of four in the world that year) which provided $25,000 US seed money. We partnered with the Zonta Club of Hamilton 2, Catholic Family Services and New Faces in a joint project to create, develop and implement a program to explore alternative dispute resolution through the medium of drama, using interactive, participatory theatre with children 7 to 12 years of age. The goal was to diminish all forms of violence against women and children in our community through the use of alternative ways to resolve disputes in schools, playgrounds and the community. The play launched in 2004 and was presented to over 20,000 children, their teachers and some parents. Other presentations included Children’s Mental Health Ontario, the Attorney General Youth Justice Conference and the Zonta conference in Rochester, New York, USA. 

Mother Daughter Walk for Heart and Stroke

In 1995 we donated $10,000 to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, directed to a research project in Hamilton-Wentworth into heart disease in women. In 2004, we sponsored the Mother Daughter Walk for Heart and Stroke with a $5000 donation. In addition, many of our members walked and raised further pledges of $2740.

Opening of the Mary Keyes residence at McMaster

Dr Mary Keyes was a member of our club from 1981 until 1998. In 2004 our club was invited to attend the opening of the Mary E Keyes student residence at McMaster University. “Mary worked tirelessly to ensure students’ interests and concerns were foremost in every aspect of her career at McMaster. An Associate Vice-Chair of Student Affairs from 1992 – 2002, Mary advocated for and devoted her career to building and enhancing student life and services at McMaster. Her hard work, energy and enthusiasm were unmatched”. For several years before, Mary and her sister did “R & R” on the weekends- Residence Research! This well thought out residence was the result.


2005 Presentation of the Ellen Fairclough stamp

This video is a 2 minute pictorial presentation of the first 30 years of Zonta International.

This 16 minute video was produced and paid for by members of the ZC of Buffalo to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Zonta International. Dr. Vivian Cody, ZC of Buffalo narrates the story of our founder, Marian Deforest. Watch for 4 members of the ZC of Hamilton who appear briefly.

A 3 minute presentation in pictures of some highlights of Zonta International’s Centennial.