Every year, just after New Year, with the longer, brighter days, thoughts often turn to summer plans—camps for the kids, golf lessons, summer vacations, and which tennis club to join. But for some, there’s only one tennis club—Lawrence Park Tennis Club—and in 2012, this grand old dame of tennis clubs celebrated its 100th birthday.
Tucked away in the picturesque ravine at the south end of Alexander Muir Park, south of Lawrence Avenue and Yonge Street, and accessed by a small road east off Yonge, Lawrence Park Tennis Club (LPTC) shares a common history with the Lawrence Park Lawn Bowling and Croquet Club, its next door neighbour. Their joint history is a part of the history of the Lawrence Park area, which began as a garden suburb in 1907, known as Lawrence Park Estates. In 1909, a bowling green and tennis courts were added for the enjoyment of the residents of the development. The bowling club records its first season as spring 1912, with Wilfrid Servington Dinnick, President of the Standard Loan Company, which financed the development, as its first president. Tennis was a secondary activity to occupy the family and friends of the bowlers while they bowled. The current tennis clubhouse, built in 1954, stands where the original lawn bowling clubhouse stood, following the erection in 1951 of the present lawn bowling clubhouse closer to the bowling green . For 100 years, tennis and lawn bowling have been played continuously at these two clubs.
To long-time members LPTC was not just a tennis club. Decades ago, it was a more like a second home. During the summer, apart from tennis, there were opening night wine and cheese events, movie nights, weekends at the Milford Manor or Bangor Lodge in the Muskokas or the Red Umbrella Inn in Haliburton, corn roasts in the fall, and end of season dinner/dances at venues such as the Board of Trade Golf Club in Woodbridge, and Fantasy Farm, and the Badminton and Racquet Club. Social life continued in the winter with skating parties at the clubhouse, when the courts were flooded. This was the pre-baby-sitter era, when parents brought their children to the club and were able to play while other adults kept watchful eyes on the little ones.
Upon seeing the pristine clay courts in the park-like setting and players dressed predominantly in white, a first-time visitor to the park could be forgiven for thinking that he or she had stumbled upon an exclusive private tennis club. (The dress code now allows for a 10% colour trim.) But nothing could be farther from the truth. Lawrence Park is one of the many public community tennis clubs in the City, with more members outside of the Lawrence Park area than resident in the immediate community. In fact, about seven years ago, membership was in decline, but good marketing, the closure of nearby St. Clement’s Tennis Club, and referrals, have resulted in healthy numbers and a waiting list.
One long-standing tradition of the club, and one which helps to integrate new members, is its queue-up system of play. Every player tags up upon arrival, and the first person makes up a foursome for doubles from the next 11 tagged-up players. Thus every player is guaranteed to play either by being asked to play or by getting to the head of the queue and making up a foursome. A few years ago, the third court was designated for reserved bookings for players who prefer to make up their own party.
Another revered tradition is Sunday tea. Over the past decade, Sunday tea no longer meant home-baked cookies and coffee cakes but a quick stop at the local grocery store for a box of whichever cookies were on sale, that is, if someone remembered. But old habits die hard. Sunday tea with more planned offerings is back!
This year, joint celebrations are planned for both clubs, as occurred in 2007 for their 95th birthday. The gate dividing the two clubs will be open, and once more, tennis players and bowlers will mingle, as they did 100 years ago.
In 1941 Mary Rice moved from Montreal to Toronto and joined Lawrence Park Tennis Club. The surrounding area was even more rustic than the green haven that exists so close to busy Yonge Street today. Mary was just 20 years old and she soon became renowned as the top player in the club, but also as someone who was ready to play with anyone, which was very important in the development of the friendly atmosphere at the club. At that time the club had real red clay courts, no lights, and 90 members who were all required to live in the immediate area. The courts were edged with a grassy area, both inside and outside the fences. Of course the balls would get wet when they landed in the grass on a dewy morning or after the rain, which was a nuisance.
Mary remembers that the old club house, shared by both the bowlers and tennis players, was a bit of a dump with raccoons living in the roof. Because they shared the clubhouse, the bowlers and the tennis players knew each other quite well. In fact Mary even tried bowling, but did not find it fast-paced enough to engage her, even though she is a keen curler.
In the second half of the 1940’s when men were returning from the war, the tennis club became quite the matrimonial bureau. Mary met her late husband Ted Rice at the club. Frank and Alma Dimock, Maimo and Peter Fairbrother, and Barb and Ron Mitchell were just a few of the couples who met at the club, or should we say courted on the courts. Later the area around the courts would be used for playpens to keep the little ones safe while their mothers played tennis.
Mary was the perpetual Secretary of the club, and did all the negotiations with the city (the name of the man from Parks was Mr. Love). She reminisced “Of course in those days the President of the Club was always a man, but the Secretary was always a woman to keep everything organized.” Mary was the first person to be honoured as a life member of the club.
1975 was a big year for the club. Mary Kirkpatrick became the first woman President of the club and the red clay courts were replaced with Har-Tru. Keeping the red clay had ceased to be an option when the owner of the brick works died and his son didn’t want to continue to supply the material. Bill Allan was part of the volunteer work crew who switched the surface. He drove the truck to the Cricket Club to pick up 70 tons of Har-Tru. When the truck was loaded, it sunk into the area of the cricket pitch on which it had been parked. The truck had to be unloaded, moved and reloaded. This upset everyone, especially the cricketers who had deep ruts in the pitch!
The men used to be responsible for all the court maintenance in those days -- rolling and sweeping the courts and putting down and taking up the tapes -- until Penny Goldrick decided, in a feminist mood, to challenge the women to help with court maintenance. As the years went by the younger members weren’t as keen on doing the maintenance and so the club hired someone to do most of it.
Other traditions that have fallen by the wayside are the out of town trips and the monthly home cooked suppers. Mary Kirkpatrick and helpers would do most of the meal preparation at her house early in the day and then finish it at the clubhouse. Recently the traditional Sunday afternoon teas have been reintroduced, but the home-baked goodies have been replaced with store-bought cookies.
Lawrence Park remains one of the only community clubs requiring that whites being worn on court. Almost every year there is a discussion at the AGM about the dress code and the majority comes to the conclusion that maintaining a straightforward “whites” dress code is less complicated than enforcing regulations about cut-offs and cropped tops, tank tops and all the other variations that can sometimes be seen on public courts.
A few years ago the courts were under-used and the club was struggling to attract new members. However a newer generation, including a number of more competitive players, have adopted the club as their summer playing place and undoubtedly they will bring about changes. Dennis Ing, for example, is a member of LPTC and also the new President of the Community League and is working hard to re-expand the league from its current 6 club scope to its former scope of a dozen clubs or more. As of this season there’s also a new Intercounty B team, offering more members the opportunity for friendly competitive play against other clubs in the area.
A commemorative tree, sponsored by the Lawrence Park Ratepayers Association, the Lawrence Park Lawn Bowling & Croquet Club, and the Lawrence Park Tennis Club, has been planted as part of the 100 year celebrations. We hope that the tree and these neighbouring clubs will flourish for many years to come.