Britannia Yacht Club

By BYC 125 Anniversary Committee

Summer 2018

A History of Water, Place and People.

In 1887, the Britannia Aquatic Club was established as an informal organization by summer residents interested in boating and other water activities. One of Ottawa’s many sawmills, built by J.C. Jamieson where Lac Duchenes meets the Ottawa River, became the meeting place. This was the start of the club which in now known as the Britannia Yacht Club. The first clubhouse was completed in 1896, which included storage for boats and a second floor “fixed for purposes of social enjoyment.” The present club house is an enlargement of this first building.

As any Club with as extensive history as Britannia, it is so much more than just a building, harbour and place to park a boat. Our history includes fires and storms; many thousands of hours of volunteer work and labour; world champion sailors and a world famous innovative boat design – the Laser. As well as tennis.

Even though the Club's charters have always contained the requirement to promote and encourage land activities, only tennis has retained a full, active partnership with the Club's aquatic sports, but just as there have been ebbs and flows in the boating world so periods of tennis activity have been marked by doldrums and vibrant, exciting times. What appears to remain constant for our tennis players through ninety two years of Club activity is dedication to the sport, deep affection for the Club, and fellowship.

It is hard to imagine the Club without its tennis courts delighting the eye between parking lot and clubhouse. An interesting story was uncovered while reseraching our 125th Anniversary Book.. Apparently the tennis players can thank Mrs. Eileen Kirby for the tennis courts. She reportedly did not enjoy sailing in the least, and desperately longed to play tennis – her favourite sport. In 1926 husband David, with the help of others, built a tennis court on the east side of the then clubhouse – thus starting tennis in the Britannia Boating Club with two more courts were added in 1927. These were clay courts and in the 30’s were a hive of activity - except when it rained and they had to dry out.

Don McDairmid

One family they attracted was the McDairmids. Eleanor and Mac were playing in the early thirties. Along came Don in 1934 and younger sister Flo and brother Cliff joined in 1937. They had extraordinary talent and enthusiasm and their names are emblazoned on the Club's tennis trophies. They teamed up with other Club hotshots. Mac and Al Jacques formed a superb team, but it was Don who possessed the winning combination of heart, skill and dedication. The Rideau Tennis Club spotted his potential, paid his fees, bought his equipment and coached him. Their investment paid handsomely. Don dominated the Ottawa Open for years. He won the Quebec Open and Eastern Canada Open, and in 1940 topped it all off by becoming Canada's no. 1 Male Singles tennis player by winning the Canadian Open Tennis Tournament. He returned to tennis after serving in World War II, and in 1946 played for Canada in the Davis Cup, winning all of his matches. In 1978, the Sports Hall of Fame recognized his achievements. Perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of all is that he, like his friend Al Jacques, did not let the fact that he was well past three score and ten stop him from playing a good game of tennis and contributing priceless stories to this history. As recently as 1993, Don and partner were runners-up in the 75+ men's doubles in a national event.

Playing on the clay courts, circa 1940.

The calibre of play during this period was extremely high and the tennis players were described as a "close knit bunch". Lorne Smith was a star player and he turned down a coaching offer from the Rideau Club to stay at Britannia and continue with his career. Sixty-five years later he and his wife, Gladys, were still members of BYC. There was keen competition between tennis clubs in the thirties, a fact made all the more remarkable because most of the players travelled by street car to get to their games. Britannia had no lights on the courts and tennis players did much of the court maintenance. There was no club manager in those days - the Board ran everything. As Tennis Director, Lorne tried hard to get a shower installed. Don Kirby, forever a sailor, said "If you need a bath after tennis, do what we do - jump in the river." Eventually the first showers were installed by Tom Fuller - that consummate sailor!

When war was declared in 1939, Canada's finest, including many of the Club's young athletes, joined up and left for overseas. There were no Canadian championships between 1940 and 1945, and play at the Club was in the doldrums as the nation concentrated on the war in Europe. Spring of ‘45 brought hope for a new world and on July 7, 1945, the first post-war Canadian Open Tennis Tournament was scheduled. Due largely to extensive court renovations organized by Len Ball, 1946 was described as "one of the best seasons in the history of the Club." Lighting was improved and two well-lit courts permitted play until 11 p.m. and extended the season to October 15th.

The early 50s were good years for tennis even though 1951 started off with a major catastrophe when high spring floods damaged all the courts and washed the clay off court No.1. Perhaps adversity brought out the best in players, for the early fifties seemed to bring out a generous sharing of talents. There were no hired pros, but the better players became dedicated instructors. The tennis records were full of cancellations of play and of tournaments due to weather and unplayable clay courts. Weather dictated court time.

John Brown Tennis Director in 1969 continued the battle to have all-weather courts installed. He estimated that it would save the Club $2,500 per season in court maintenance salaries. At last, in 1972, a step was taken in the right direction. An experimental all-weather court was constructed on court one with most of the work carried out by tennis players under the direction of Don Folger. The plan was to press for all court coverage if the experimental court was successful. In 1973 Len Ball was on the Club's Board in charge of House and Grounds - the right man, in the right place, at the right time. In the spring of 1975, he organized a plebiscite of all members seeking approval for the outlay of funds to install Plexipave tennis courts. The completed questionnaires revealed a majority approval. By 1984 Len Ball had organized the resurfacing of five courts with Plexipave and upgraded the night lighting.

Steve Ball, Len’s son was hired in the summer of 1980 to give free tennis lessons to members of the Junior Sailing Squadron - a first - and Tennis Director Chris Kidd recorded another first when he spotted two players enjoying a game on BYC courts on February 27, 1981! 1987 saw a new phase in club tennis when Tennis Director Josie Braden organized winter tennis sessions for BYC players - first at the Thunderbird Tennis Club and then at the West Ottawa Tennis bubble.

Len Ball, centre, surrounded by fellow club members.

The National Capital Tennis Association 55+, 45+ and 35+ veterans tournaments were played on our courts attracting the best age group players from the entire National Capital area. BYC hosted the Classic Tournament for 14-and-Under Juniors from across Canada. The Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, sponsored by NCTA in August 1990 and played at our Club put a new perspective on guts and effort. Tennis Director Calvin Smith wrote that "it was a pleasure and honour to have this group as our guests at BYC."

Sixty tennis enthusiasts attended a buffet and Spring Tennis Meeting in April 1991 and the 90s were off to a rousing start. Round Robins flourished, often followed by social gatherings. 1993 saw the beginning of "Strawberries and Wimbledon" - round robin play, finals from Wimbledon on TV, all washed down with the traditional bubbly and strawberries and cream.

The Club’s tennis players are very engaged and ensure that the courts are well maintained and provide the best playing experience possible. In 2008 the tennis players, through the allocation of their capital surcharge to the Tennis Program, had raised sufficient funds and the courts were once again resurfaced in their current plexi-pave blue surface. In 2012 Court 1 was retired in preparation for planned future alterations to the clubhouse. As a result, there are now four courts. A new fence was installed around these courts, and this is a major improvement to the appearance.

The BYC community gathered together to dedicate the tennis courts in memory of Len Ball. His longstanding dedication to the development of the sport of tennis and custodianship of the tennis courts at BYC was outstanding. Simon Fuller shared some personal memories of Mr. Ball. Len was involved in all aspects of the Club. He was an avid tennis player, sailor and a longstanding member of the BYC Board of Directors. Phil Moorman cut the ceremonial ribbon to dedicate the “Leonard Ball Courts” to close the ceremony. As part of the kickoff for the week-long 125th anniversary celebrations, BYC hosted a Junior Tennis Tournament. BYC was a hive of activity with a full draw of junior-aged players. Players and parents experienced sailing, some for the very first time. The Club history displays and the positive atmosphere of BYC in between matches helped to make this event a great success.

The history grows every year at BYC. Pickleball has been added as an additional activity on the courts. 2018 will see the courts and lights again being repaired and upgraded. Traditions continue. Wimbledon Sunday’s Strawberries and Cream is on its 26th year, and we have now added French Open Sunday Cafe au Lait & Croissants, a mere 5 years old. Tennis Planning and Programming is still done by a volunteer commitee, and we still are hosting NCTA Tournaments.