Founded in 1905, the Toronto Racquet Club is one of the oldest - perhaps the oldest - squash club in North America. The first of its three homes was on Emily Street, a quiet, tree-lined byroad located half a block from the intersection of King and Simcoe Streets. At the time, this crossroads was known as Legislation, Salvation, Education and Damnation Corner, the epithet apparently having been derived from the nature of the establishments on the four corners: Government House, St. Andrew's Church, Upper Canada College, and a saloon. In its initial articles of 1905, the expressed rationale of the club was "to provide some game which will give a moderate amount of exercise at a not too extravagant price." This policy-notable for its conservative, no-nonsense simplicity-still obtains today.
The first official document in the records of the Club, dated 6 February 1905, consists of an invitation to subscribe to the formation of a facility for the game of squash. Within ten days, eighty-four persons had pledged fifty dollars or one hundred dollars--sufficient capital to set in motion the founding of the Toronto Racquet Club. The Emily Street property was purchased for $3,750 and the building was constructed at a cost of $7,780. The structure was simple and strictly utilitarian: it comprised one singles court, one shower, a lounge and gallery, along with living quarters for the Club’s professional, a Mr. Muschamp. The first President of the Club was D.R. Wilkie; the Vice-President Hume Blake: and the Secretary was Graham Campbell, who held that office until 1924, when he rook over the Presidency and served in that capacity until 1940. Members were required to pay twenty-five cents for one-half hour of court time, over and above the yearly fee of ten dollars. Members were also obliged to supply their own squash balls. When the club opened for play on 16 October 1905, the membership had increased from the original eighty-four founding members to one hundred and thirteen.
The remainder of the Club’s tenure at the Emily Street location proved to be fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. After the onset of the Great War in 1914, the Club ceased operations from November 1915 until August 1918 during which time the building remained vacant. Following this three-year interregnum, the property was leased for two further three-year periods: by 1924, the Racquet Club had been homeless for nine years, although members were able to secure playing privileges at other squash facilities in Toronto, notably at the University Club.
At this juncture, the Club's officers, led by Graham Campbell, negotiated an agreement with the York Club to use its carriage house at Bloor and St. George Streets. The Racquet Club moved to the York Club property, and squash activity resumed in November 1924. Forty-six members of the original one hundred and thirteen members of 1905 remained, including Graham Campbell, who embarked upon his sixteen-year term as President. At these premises, the Club flourished and expanded: two singles courts, two changing cubicles, a lounge and bar, and access to the York Club's kitchen. Members now paid a fifteen-dollar annual fee. The five-dollar increase in fees was sufficient to allow for the providing of squash balls and the waiving of payment for playing time; two benefits which continue to exist to this day.
With the advent of the east-west Bloor Street subway line in 1959, the Club was forced to undertake its second migration - this time to 159 Bleecker Street in the west part of Cabbagetown. Peter Rea, a member since 1940 and later the first Managing Director of the Club from 1968 to 1978, formulated the problem –waggishly – in this way: "The Toronto Transportation Commission began to plan its east-west subway. As near as could be estimated, one of its main terminals [the St. George station] would coincide with the service line of our courts, and the number of lets this would inevitably cause seemed to indicate that a change of venue was necessary."
Accordingly, in an historic - and turbulent - Special General Meeting in 1959, President Douglas Jennings brought forward to the membership a proposal that included three alternatives: negotiate for a different site on the property: amalgamate with another Toronto squash club: or move to a different location. When the tumult and the shouting had subsided, the members had resolved to continue the independent existence of the Racquet Club at a different location. Bonds in the amount of $17,000 were issued to members, a mortgage of $30,000 was approved and the Bleecker Street property was acquired. When the new Club opened in 1960, it consisted of two North American singles courts, a doubles court, lockers for 200 members, a lounge, and kitchen facilities.
In the mid-seventies, a further crisis occurred, which again threatened the survival of the Club. At this time, the American hardball court was rapidly being displaced by the international softball court, which became the choice for all young players. The Board of Directors was therefore obliged to attend to the real possibility of the Club’s decline should it attempt to carry on with its two hardball singles courts. The member of the Board who perceived the problem most clearly was James Meekison, who championed the cause for the construction of a new international softball court. Thanks to his clear-sighted vision and indefatigable energies - and with the support of the Presidents Donald Greer and Bruce Taylor - the court was built and the Club held its first softball tournaments in 1979. In the mid-eighties, Meekison again stepped into the breach and, with the assistance of Michael Manley, Bert Keene and Presidents David Neale and Ted Clarke, he vigorously spearheaded a campaign for the addition of a second international court. The court was completed and ready for play in 1996. Nowadays, the Racquet Club is well and able to participate fully in all Toronto and District softball leagues.
Today, nearly a century after the beginnings at Emily Street and 45 years after the trek to Bleecker Street, there have been only a few substantial changes in the atmosphere and operation of the Racquet Club. The membership, of course has changed. The Club has been modified to accommodate the two international singles courts, a pro shop, a fitness room and a sauna. Yet the Club remains faithful to its first, and principal, purpose: to provide squash "at a not too extravagant price”. It also continues to maintain its traditional spartan appointments and, as was the case in 1905, remains unswervingly devoted to the policy of an all-male membership. Beyond this, the Club continues to abound with an uncommon esprit de corps and singular goodwill. The more things at the Racquet Club have changed, it seems, the more they have remained the same.
If you are not a member of the club and are interested in learning more, please call us at (416) 922-3665 or Contact Us.