From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
In 1902, a boat club was constructed near Pine Street, the brainchild of the Vanderbilt Society’s small Sault Ste. Marie chapter.
It would be a building so grand that, according to the Sault Star, it would “compare favourably with any boat quarters in the East.” Descriptions of the planned building featured locker rooms, indoor bathing facilities, a smoking room, and a grand assembly room with a large balcony.
The building was scheduled to officially open on June 26, 1902 – the day of King Edward VII’s coronation. However, the boating club’s opening was postponed because of the King’s ill health. He had developed appendicitis and, while he was never scheduled to be in attendance, there was concern that should the outcome of his illness be a negative one, it would be more appropriate to choose a new date for the boat club’s celebrations.
After a brief delay, the Sault Boating Club had its grand opening on July 1 with an evening that included speeches, music, and dancing. There was a dress code, with reminders going out to male attendees that “yachting or light suits” would be the appropriate attire. The mayor, W.J. Thompson, was in attendance, and encouraged citizens to provide the club with “their financial and moral support.”
The Boat Club held dances and lawn parties, and people showed up for games of bridge and tennis. And, of course, there were the boating activities. The club hosted regattas – series of races typically involving yachts or boats – and sent crews to competitions out of town as well.
At first, there were restrictions as to who could join the boat club: members had to be men over the age of 21. However, as time passed, the rules were relaxed. Women were officially allowed to join in 1937. The minimum age was also lowered to 18 – older members had begun attending the country club more regularly, and the boat club became a hub for a younger crowd.
On October 31, 1939, the building, now called the St. Mary’s River Boat Club, burned down in what the Sault Star referred to as “a real blaze of glory.” The fire was so out of control that there was no chance of saving the building; firefighters could only try to keep it from spreading. Crowds gathered to watch the flames, with the audience growing to hundreds of people.
The fire resulted in the complete loss of the building – valued at $10,000 – as well as $5,000 worth of the building’s contents. Among the items destroyed was a voyageur canoe that had been used by troops working to suppress the Red River Rebellion.
The boat club was soon re-built, however the new building lacked the grandeur of the original one. As well, the Second World War put a strain on the club’s membership. It folded for a while, then reopened and, from the 40s through to the 60s, became a popular social gathering place including notable members Russ Ramsay as well as Ozzie Hargreaves, father of the Hargreaves quadruplets.
The venue became so popular, in fact, that it sparked safety concerns. In 1965, the morality squad and fire marshal showed up at a dance to clear people out of the building, concerned that the event was overcrowded. Estimates put the number of attendees around 500 people; the maximum capacity was later set to 252!
In May of 1967, the boat club burned down once again, leaving nothing but rubble and some still-functional tennis courts. The facility was re-built for the second time. This time, it opened as the Rotary-YMCA Tennis and Aquatic Club, or RYTAC. This facility closed in 2012 due to financial concerns. Today, the site is owned by Sault College and is known as the Franklin Prouse Centre. The property will be used as a programming space for the college, hosting tennis courts and waterfront activities once again.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.