The employees of the B.C. Electric and Railway Company (B.C.E.R.) founded the club in 1911 using courts in the Windsor Park area. It was supported by the company and was called the B.C. Electric and Railroad Tennis Club. On July 6, 1912, the lot on Bowker Avenue was purchased by B.C.E.R. Co. from J.K. Drinnan for $1800. An abutting lot on Cavendish Avenue was bought on June 2, 1913 from R. C. Neish for $1600.
In 1923, two fenced courts and a clubhouse were built on the Bowker Avenue site. A second adjacent lot on Cavendish Avenue was purchased in 1938 from M. Bell for $275.
In 1914, the first Men's single Club champion was A. V. Price.
In 1915 the Men's single Club champion was R. D. Travis.
A. Code won the Women's singles trophy first presented in 1932.
The B.C.E.R. Co. employees in Vancouver also formed a tennis club, located on 15th Avenue. The two Clubs held reciprocal matches each summer. Travel between the cities was on the stately C.P.R. Princess boats. Accommodation in Victoria was at the Empress Hotel. The evening preceding the matches, dinners and dances were held at The Royal Colwood Golf Club. The visitors habitually alleged that their failure in the matches was due to having been plied with excessive amounts of food and wine!
The Vancouver club ended a distinguished career in 1952 when the company donated the property to the city for a grassy park.
In 1946, J. Ovelaque and R.Nevard won the Ladies Doubles trophy. R.R. Mitchell and R.Wood won the Men's Doubles trophy. The Club Tournament has been an annual event since 1914, except for the years of World War I and II.
The Victoria Club continued through the 1950's but with fewer B.C.E.R. employees as members. In 1959, Mr. Mearnes, B.C.E.R. president, during a meeting with Peggy MacNeil, the Club president, expressed concern over the small employee membership. He suggested that in the future the Club might have to be self-supporting.
In 1959 Rosemary Hawthorne captured the Ladies singles title. Howard Tooby won the Men's singles title.
In 1960 the Club did become self-supporting and leased the facilities for $50 per month from the B.C.E.R. In 1961, the Company offered to sell the property to the Club for $9,000.
A five-year struggle commenced. With only 50 members the Club wondered how to raise the $9,000 in order to buy the Club from B.C. Electric, (soon to be B.C. Hydro). In the early 1960s $9000 was a lot of money. A reasonable monthly salary at that time was $400 - $500. Interest in tennis was low and some members were leaving to join the venerable Victoria Lawn Tennis Club, which was about to move to magnificent new facilities in the Gordon Head area.
The Club's future was bleak. At one general meeting the members were about to throw in the towel. But a motion to hang on, and feisty comments by Percy Baradell persuaded the members to continue their efforts.
Over the next 5 years under the presidency of Stan Booker, and the persistence and enthusiasm of Howard Tooby, things started to move. The Club's name was changed to the Oak Bay Tennis Club and it was registered under the Societies Act. The Club ceased affiliation with the B.C.E. although the property continued to be leased from the Company. In 1961 the Club's offer of $7500 was declined. The B.C.E. offer to sell the proper for $8500 was rejected by the club. In 1962 the Club offered $9000 on terms of $1500 cash and the balance payable over 12 years. This too was rejected by B.C.E. The B.C.E. was now in the process of negotiating incorporation with the Crown Corporation, the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority. These negotiations provided time for the Club to scramble and raise money to purchase the property. Members were sold $50 debentures, and thanks to the generosity of one member, $7500 was borrowed at a low interest rate. Salvation. Time was running out. On March 24, 1964, the Club offered to purchase the property for $9000 cash. Three days later this offer was accepted “on the understanding that the Club would give an undertaking, so far as legally practical, not to vacate the premises with a view to subdivision of the property for sale as residential or commercial lots for a period of 10 years”.
On December 1, 1964 the Oak Bay Tennis Club confirmed that it would not sell the lots as stipulated for a period of 10 years. On December 31, 1964, the deal was finalized.
In 1965 courts number 2 and 3 were shifted to accommodate a singles court, court number 4. In 1978, with the installation of all-weather porous concrete courts surfaces, the tedious chore of mopping and drying courts after a rainfall came to an end.
The original Clubhouse built in 1923 was replaced in 1984 with a fully equipped, architect-designed facility.
TENNIS IN VICTORIA IN THE EARLY DAYS
In the early years of tennis in Victoria, the game was largely based on the Victoria Lawn Tennis Club. In his book, “First Service” (One Hundred Years of Tennis in British Columbia), published in 1987, Alan Stevenson gives us an early glimpse. “The original Victoria Lawn Tennis Club began in 1886 in a location on Belcher Street, now Rockland Avenue, between Cook and Vancouver Streets. This was the setting for the first grass court tournament in 1886. By 1910 tennis had become so popular that more courts were needed, and the Victoria Lawn Tennis club moved to the Foul Bay Road and Fort Street location. 1910-1914 were great years for the club”. Stevenson suggests that Victoria was the epicenter of tennis in Canada.
“The Canadian Davis Cup Team of 1913 was, in the record of achievement, the best team that Canada or B.C. has yet produced. All four members of the team, captained by R.B. (Bobby) Powell, were all British Columbians, either natives or adoptees. They all played at the Victoria Tennis Club”.
“The captain was left-handed Bobby Powell, and the second was the famed Bernie Schewengers, who is a member of both the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. The third was Captain J.F. Foulkes who won the Canadian singles championship three times and the B.C. singles nine times. The fourth was Col. H.C.Myers a globe-trotting soldier from Winnipeg, who was a friend and coach of the fables Suzanne Lenglen of France”.
Each of these players merits a long and detailed description of their accomplishments. “In 1913 the Davis Cup Team defeated Belgium and South Africa to reach the finals in the European Zone. In the zone final they lost to a strong United States team”.
World War I disrupted tennis in Victoria, hard hit by the death of Bobby Powell, killed in action in 1915 in France. However by 1919 the game made a recovery, as indicated by an article “Tennis is Booming on the Pacific Coast”, contributed by the revered tennis executive J.G.Brown to The Canadian Lawn Tennis Annual of 1919.
“Tennis at Victoria is having a tremendous boom following a long period of depression. Since 1919 the number of entrants at the B.C. championships showed a remarkable recovery. The Victoria Club is one of the finest in Canada having sixteen courts, nearly all grass, and a membership of three hundred”.
Enthusiasm for tennis in Victoria continued, and despite the depression, the Victoria Lawn Tennis Club hosted the Canadian and British Columbia Championships concurrently on its Fort Street grass courts. Victorians Marjorie Leeming and Hope Leeming won the Canadian Ladies Doubles in 1930 and 1932, and Mrs. H.V.Wilson and Mary Campbell won in 1933. Marjorie Leeming and John Proctor won their second national mixed doubles title in 1930.
In 1956, the Victoria Lawn Tennis Club hosted the Davis Cup match between the United States and Canada. They played to a tie, which the strong U.S. team won 4-1. Playing for Canada were Bob Bedard and Don Fontana from the east and Jerico stars Larry Barclay and Paul Wiley, with non-playing captain Jim Skelton of Vancouver. The local executives for the event were George MacMinn, Jim McArthur and Dr. Kemble Greenwood.
Prominent Victoria tennis players on the National scene over the next several decades include: Susan Bratt ranked in 1957 in the top 10; Sharon Whittaker appeared in the top 10 junior ranking; notable sisters Nina and Jennifer Bland; in a spectacular 1978 season Wendy Barlow qualified for the Wimbledon draw, reached the semifinals of the Senior Nationals. In 1987 Wendy was the captain of the Canadian Federation Cup team.
“The end of a grand era was signaled by the Victoria Racquets Club, when in 1966 it moved to a new site in the university district. It was the beginning of an ultra-modern sports complex – but it contained no grass courts. Perhaps that is why in 1972 tennis hustler Bobby Riggs, with a style typical of the circus atmosphere, played an exhibition match against Alex MacDonald, Attorney General of the N.D.P. provincial government, on the hallowed lawns in front of the Empress Hotel. The umpire was former president of the Vancouver Tennis Club, former Attorney General and MacDonald's political opponent, Garde Gardom. It is believed that MacDonald blamed his defeat on “the biased umpiring of Gardom”.