The Waterloo Tennis Club located in the heart of Waterloo Park is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. It owes its beginning to a group of avid tennis players who in 1915 advocated for two clay courts to be added to the two grass courts already in existence in Waterloo Park. The Park Board, the body responsible for park activities agreed to the request but the players were responsible for constructing and financing the courts themselves. These pioneering players became the builders and first members of the Waterloo Tennis Club.
For half a century the club was administered by members. They were instrumental in its growth and financed its improvements. The Dominion Life Assurance was a benefactor in the 1930s helping with the cost of installing lights on two of the courts making evening play possible. The club by then had four clay courts. The years following each of the World Wars were periods of growth in the sport and leagues and tournaments mushroomed around the region resulting in greater demand for court time. To meet the need, the club in 1964, built two more courts and all six were converted to a new surface material called Har-tru. In addition to the courts, a new and much-needed clubhouse was built in 1968.
Aerial view of the courts.
The additional courts helped but were still not sufficient because by then the University of Waterloo, which had been renting court time from the club, was expanding its programs. In 1971-72, construction of six more courts began on land adjacent to the club and the funds for this project came from a provincial grant obtained by the university for this purpose. With the new courts came an air-supported dome to enable play in winter. A partnership was formed between the University and the Club in 1972 to share the new courts and their related expenses. This was a profound change for the club as the arrival of winter tennis meant it was no longer a seasonal operation but an all-year-round enterprise. It also meant that volunteers could not be expected to administer its operations and with membership at a peak of around 850 and a waiting list, it became necessary to hire staff to take care of business.
Besides the University of Waterloo, the City of Waterloo is also an important partner because the tennis facilities are on City land. In the early years the City assisted the club several times with loans and small grants in exchange for the club allowing members of the community to take lessons there. It was never a private club solely for members. The club has also been the beneficiary of two Trillium grants, the most recent awarded in December 2014. Relations with both City and University are cordial and the club is a great example of a community working together.
Famous players have visited the club notably Tony Trabert and Jack Kramer who came to Waterloo to conduct a clinic in 1959. International coach Peter Burwash also did a clinic here. Kramer was Wimbledon singles champ in 1947, twice US Open singles champ and Trabert was Wimbledon’s singles champ in 1955 and also a two-time US Open champion. Kramer was to become the first president of the ATP in 1972.
Members enjoy the clay courts while other view from the clubhouse.
The club has had the privilege of hosting prestigious professional tournaments such as the Western Ontario Open Championships and a professional International Tennis Federation (ITF)- sanctioned Challenger event for women. The club hosted the Western Open for the first time in 1939, then again in 1954 and continuously from 1963-1988. The Western Open, which included both men and women served as a warm up for the Canadian Open and local fans were treated to a high standard of tennis from players drawn from London, Windsor, Michigan, Florida and local talent. More recently, the women’s Challenger event in 2008, its inaugural year, saw a 14-year-old wild card named Eugenie Bouchard make her debut to professional tennis in Canada. Sharon Fichman and Gabriela Dabrowski, now members of the Canadian Federation Cup team and several of Canada’s top junior hopefuls have been participants in this popular tournament which ended a six-year run in 2013.
The Waterloo Tennis Club is a not-for-profit organization. It is a members’ directed club governed by a Board of Directors drawn from its membership. Besides governance, members perform valuable services such as helping staff with social events, spring and fall cleanups and assisting in any club undertakings. Its members are able to form and enjoy a camaraderie from working together for the benefit of the club, not to the extent as in the “good old days” but the culture still exists.
Non-members are welcome to enrol in lessons programs, kids summer camps and to book indoor courts. Only the outdoor har-tru courts are for the exclusive use of members and their guests. Members also benefit from a variety of social and competitive events. The club is a designated High Performance Tennis Development Centre and is served by five experienced and accomplished coaches and a staff dedicated to providing friendly and efficient service.
This milestone is a considerable achievement and speaks volumes of those who have served it through good and bad times. Its history is rich and colourful and a great testament to the will of people in the community to create and keep alive a community effort. The focus of the 100th celebrations will be on its members, past and present and the community that has supported it.
This historic outdoor season was marked by an official opening day of events May 31 at the club. It kicked off with a free junior clinic 9-10 a.m, lunch and the official ceremonies. Although rain interrupted the on court plans and exhibition matches were held in the bubble, a good celebration was enjoyed by everyone who attended.