The photo above shows an aerial view of the Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club taken in 1962. Inset photos show members working on the clubhouse in 1935; a sail on the lake in 1948; the 1977 season opener with former Toronto mayor David Crombie; and the launching of a boat in 1979. Photos: Submitted.
By ALEXANDROS VAROUTAS
For a community named after its waterfront location, the beach has naturally adopted Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club (ABYC) as a hub for those looking to get out on the water and experience the joys of the lake. This year, the club celebrates its 90th anniversary and looks back on its humble beginnings.
The ABYC was founded in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, by Archie Walker, Bob Walker, Rollie Alsop and Johnny Gibson.
With a failing economy and an uncertain future ahead of them, they found respite by heading out into the open water for sailboat races with friends.
The club was originally located on Knox and Eastern Avenues and served as the gateway to Toronto-wide club competitions, which inevitably brought more people to join.
But with little money to spend on recreation, aspiring members would choose to contribute in other ways in return for a place in the club. So in 1936, the first clubhouse was built by club members themselves, sparking a lasting tradition of member contributions instead of high membership fees.
Today this pattern lives on, allowing more people to join the club and get involved in sailing.
Club Commodore and Chair of the 90th Anniversary Celebration Committee, Carolyn Weckesser, explained how this has led to a very diverse group of members today, from across the city and from all age groups.
“It’s a sport you can play at any age and as long as you feel healthy enough to do it,” she said, adding that they had sailors from the age of five until at 95 years old.
They have seen a significant increase in membership over the past five years, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has left many people looking for an outdoor hobby.
“No better social distancing than on the water,” Weckesser said.
One of the club’s most notable members is Sarah Douglas, who has won numerous awards in sailing competitions around the world and achieved the best result (sixth) for a Canadian in an individual sailing event at the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 (2021). Douglas also plans to compete again in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
But members don’t have to be Olympic athletes to join in the fun. ABYC’s vision is to open up the shore to the community and allow anyone to participate in water sports.
Even without a boat, members can sail through the cooperative sailing program, which allows you to sail on one of the club-owned boats.
For those who might be new to the water and don’t want to paddle right away, there are also kayak and paddleboard programs that allow members to get their feet wet, so to speak.
In line with its inclusion vision, ABYC has also partnered this year with Broad Reach Canada, an organization dedicated to equality and inclusion through sailing.
Yachting and sailing is traditionally considered an exclusive activity, often associated with those who are wealthy. Through its partnership with Broad Reach and low membership fees, ABYC continues its efforts to make these activities accessible to all who are interested, regardless of socio-economic status.
Over the years the club has hosted a number of regional, local and national sailing regattas, and will host many more this year as they celebrate their 90th anniversary.
The celebrations will culminate with the Heritage Anniversary Weekend on September 17-18.
For more information about the club, visit https://abyc.ca/