Posted by: Catherine Allen
The Ottawa Tennis Club is almost as old as the modern game of tennis itself. Court Tennis, known in France as jeu de paume, was first played in the tenth century in the cloistered courtyards of French monasteries and later in the chateaux and castles of the French and English aristocracy.
But its descendant, lawn tennis was invented in 1873, when Walter C. Wingfield, a British army officer, adapted the rules and techniques of court tennis to a game that could be played on grass. This new form of tennis was brought to Canada a few years later and grew rapidly in popularity.
In 1894, an article in the Ottawa Evening Journal noted that “although golf is the truly swell game of the present day, the old favourite, lawn tennis, is more popular than ever this year.
In the fall of 1881, members of the Ottawa Cricket Club who had been playing the new game of Lawn Tennis on the grounds of Rideau Hall decided to form the Ottawa Lawn Tennis Club.
The Club moved to Cartier Square in 1888, to Patterson Avenue in 1902, to Third Avenue, west of Lyon Street in 1907 and to its present location on Cameron Avenue in 1923. Lawn bowling was added to its activities in 1905.
Located between Leonard Avenue and Brewer Park, then known as the Ottawa South Playgrounds, the property extended south to the Rideau River.
In those days, the land along Leonard Avenue was largely bush, except for a single house at the river’s end. Squatters occupied land near the Dunbar Bridge.
In the autumn of 1922, George A. Crain & Sons began construction of a large, two-storey clubhouse costing $26,000. The ground floor contained a buffet, a secretary’s office, a lounge rotunda, locker rooms and show facilities.
The second floor contained a main lounge, a ladies’ lounge, two card rooms, a dining room and a kitchen. A wide verandah and a balcony were built across the front of the new clubhouse.
After the fields were levelled, twenty clay tennis courts and two eight-rink bowling greens were laid out by Joseph Flitcrott, the club’s experienced groundskeeper.
The first members of the club to play on the new courts were E.E. Heppenstall and Ronald Sharp, who left work early for the purpose.
During the 1920’s, tennis flourished in the Ottawa. In 1923, twenty-seven clubs were affiliated with the Ottawa District Lawn Tennis Association.
At the Ottawa Club, life differed in many respects from today. Although ample parking space was provided at the front of the club, most members came by street car for five cents a ride. The tracks ran along Sunnyside to Seneca and then back to Bank Street via Grove.
Tennis balls were supplied to members by the club. Tea was served on Saturday afternoons at 4:00 o’clock with sandwiches and cake. To cool off after playing, members swam in the Rideau River. The original plan for the Cameron Avenue club grounds called for building a boathouse and swimming pool on the river front.
On Saturday evenings, there was ballroom dancing to the music of Berclay Kidd and other orchestras. The tradition of cards or programmes was still in vogue. Tennis was not played on Sundays until the mid-1920’s and then only after 1:00 pm. “Tag days” were held during tournaments in which top players were participating. Instead of charging admission, young ladies circulated among the spectators selling tags.
In the 1970’s the total membership grew to well over one thousand and funds became available to make numerous improvements to the club. With the aid of a loan provided by several club members, a swimming pool was built in the early 1960’s.
During the 1970’s, clay courts were replaced in stages by courts with an all-weather surface. The lights for night tennis were greatly improved and extensive renovations were made to the clubhouse.
As the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club enters its 112th year, the long standing tradition of providing a thoroughly delightful place for competition, recreation and good friendship remains intact.
In order to meet the diverse needs of the communities surrounding it, the club continues to introduce and nurture innovative and varied programs for families, singles and couples alike. Junior camps and clinics, men’s and ladies leagues, friendly round robins, interactive day-care and tennis and lawn bowling competitions are just a few of the offerings that keeps the club vibrant.
The ongoing pledge of the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club remains one of providing social events that are both frequent and fun, where people can meet new friends, playing lots of games and enjoying the club as the “people place” that it can be.
This formula of continually responding to the needs of the members has been the clubs strength in the past as it is today.
Material and photos [in the original] supplied by Ed Hladkowicz excerpted from Club’s Centennial Committee publication written by Ross Eamen.
Originally published in the OSCAR April 1993.