Celebrating its centennial in 2011, the High Park Club (HPC) is one of the oldest curling clubs in Toronto. Over the past 100 years, the club has seen remarkable change in its surroundings going from rural farmland and dirt roads to high-density residential and commercial development. Located just east of High Park in the neighbourhood of Roncesvalles, it is also one of the oldest buildings in the area.
Land for the club was purchased in 1910 by the club’s first president W.R. Prittie and chief financial backer. The building erected in 1911, was designed by architects Gemmell and W.R. Gregg and modeled on another Toronto club, the Queen City Curling Club. Today, the exterior looks very much as it did then. Facing east to west, the street façade is an unobtrusive red brick and on the west side a spectacular two-storey verandah overlooks the lawn tennis courts (formerly lawn bowling greens).
Over the years, the interior of the club has seen numerous improvements including the most recent which was funded in part by the Canadian government’s Recreational Infrastructure Canada (RInC) program and by its members. The main floor, curling rink, locker rooms and second floors were renovated and modernized. Club members who volunteered their time and expertise did a great deal of the work.
The High Park Curling and Lawn Bowling Club’s Inaugural Ball was held on the rink floor on December 15, 1911. In the early years, the club offered curling, lawn bowling, skating, indoor baseball, billiards and cards. The new Club’s first few seasons were quite successful but with the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and the mild winters in 1916 and 1917 (only natural ice in those days), the club’s membership sagged and the club went bankrupt in 1917. It re-opened in 1918 as the High Park Club Limited with a new board of directors, new charter and no debt and has been financially successful ever since.
HPC became the social centre for the whole community with the vast majority of its members living within a 10-minute walk of the club. In the 1910’s and early ‘20’s, it was customary for men to visit the club in the evening and play cards. HPC was the centre for some of the best bridge played in Canada with numerous championship trophies to its credit.
Until 1919, women could not be members but wives of members had some privileges. In 1986, Anne Craig became the first female President of the High Park Club. There have been 5 women since that time.
From the start in 1912, lawn bowling was the principal sport at HPC, with bowlers frequently outnumbering the curlers. The Club’s sweeping verandah provided an ideal spot for watching the Club’s lawn bowlers in action. Spectators watched players dressed in whites on 16 greens surrounded by climbing roses, lilacs, chestnuts and gardens with multi-coloured flowers, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately due to the rise in popularity of golf and cottaging in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, membership in this section declined and the bowling greens were converted to lawn tennis courts.
Started in 1984, the tennis section of HPC boasts a unique feature – the only club-owned grass courts in Ontario. Tennis professionals have been known to grace its courts in preparation for the Wimbledon Championship (the oldest tennis tournament in the world).
Curling was the other dominant sport at HPC and continues to be so today. It was a very different version of the game than what is played today. Along with their straw brooms, each player was responsible for their own rock and for $1 a year it could be stored in a wooden locker placed along the walls of the rink. In 1939, 41 pairs of stones, weighing 41.5 lbs each with black or white handles, were purchased for $36 per pair. The first sets of stones were lost when a German torpedo hit the Athenia, the ship carrying them. New ones arrived in time for the following year.
Artificial curling ice was installed in 1926 thus ending both the indoor softball league and public skating. Now the only skating that takes place is at the end of the curling season party held in May. In celebration of the club’s 80th Anniversary in 1993, the Grand Match took place on High Park’s Grenadier Pond and drew 64 teams from across the GTA. High Park Club curlers have excelled at their sport and the trophy cabinet is full of cups and plates won over the past century.
Until the mid-60’s, the club was managed by committees and the day-to-day needs were taken care of by the club’s steward or caretaker who lived in a private apartment with its own entrance on the north side of the club. Over the years, rentals such as flower shows, indoor baseball league, exhibitions, dances, weddings and other events have subsidized the club’s revenues.
Today, there is a full-time manager, icemaker and a part-time ice, lawn and catering staff that ensure the club runs smoothly and efficiently. The High Park Club, together with its excellent staff, friendly members and comfortable atmosphere, has earned an excellent reputation for sportsmanship, facilities and service in Toronto, Ontario and Canada.