First Evidence of Sailing at Erieau
Sailboat races at Erieau started before the turn of the century. We understand that it all began with quite large two-masted schooners. Two of these called The Chariot and The Rondeau were owned by Captain Post and were used for commercial fishing. Another was The Outlaw, owned jointly by four Chatham lawyers, S.B. Arnold, Captain Beeston, Thomas Scullard and J.G. Kerr. Another of these two-masters was The Baden Powell owned jointly by Archie Park, Jack Park and W. Phillmore, all of Chatham. Other boats of this era were The Bonnie Bell owned by Bert Jones of Chatham, Erie Boy owned by W.E. Hall of Blenheim, The Eric B. owned by Eric Bounsall, the Banshee owned by the Harper family, The Bat Wing owned by the Gundy family, The Klondike owned by Chief Young, Louise owned by T.J. Rutley, Pirate owned by the James Brakin family and the Shamrock, owner unknown.
Introduction of Locally-Built Boats
Fred Weir, affectionately known as “Pop”, came to Rondeau Park in 1903. He was born on the Isle of Man, off the coast of Scotland and came to Canada when he was two years of age. He lived with his parents first in Montreal, then Toronto and Hamilton. Later as a young man he made his way to Rondeau. His family had been shipbuilders for generations and Pop carried on the tradition, first building fishing boats for local fishermen. He later concentrated on smaller sailing boats and rowboats although he did build one craft 57 feet long. It was in 1906 that J.G Kerr commissioned Pop Weir to build a sailing dinghy, which he called The Liza Lou. During the next few years several more of these dinghies made their way to Erieau including The Scout, owned by P.G. Piggott, Milady by Dr. McRitchie, Alberta by J.M. Pike, Saucy Sis by H.D. Smith, Limping Lucy by Dr. McGregor, Freda by Nelson Hartwick, The Guide by Jessie Smith Adams and Ted Smith and The OTA by the Gundy family. The Adventurer, sailed by Syd Wilson but built in Chatham, competed during this era.
According to The Planet, August 16, 1920, Local sportsmen will be interested to know that the activity in yachting is being revived. An Erieau Championship Cup Race has been established by the residents and next Thursday, Civic Holiday, will see the first race for this cup. A subscription list has been made and money is rapidly coming in with which a costly silver cup will be purchased. To hold this cup a boat must will the Championship three consecutive years but each year it will remain with the winner. Something must have happened to this plan because the Erieau Village Council put up the trophy and it was a shield. This shield is now on permanent display in the club house, thanks to Jim Richards it’s last winner along with several other mementos.
Sailors from Government Park joined with the Erieau yachtsmen and took an active part in the races. Both Pop Weir and his younger brother Al, who has also settled in the Park and set up a boat building enterprise, were keen competitor. Another Rondeau sailor, A.N. Knowles of London, presented the club with its first stopwatch. On certain Sundays, the races were started from the Government dock at Rondeau as more and more sailors from each side of the Bay became interested in the sport.
Apparently there was no formal organization, as we know it today. Those who liked to sail got together and held races on holidays and the favourite seemed to be Civic Holiday, the occasion of the Scottish Picnic. We have not been able to come up with a definite date of organization, but we do know from the Minute Book that there was an active organization in 1932.
According to Al Weir, The Rondeau Yacht Club was formed in 1928. At that time there was a membership of about 50 with 12 boats racing weekly from the Government dock. Through the efforts of A.N. Knowles of London, Thomas Hedley of Ridgetown, Joseph Jeffery of London, and Al Weir, property was obtained from the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Many of the members volunteered their labour to erect a Club House, which was completed in 1933. Since that time the Rondeau Yacht Club has grown steadily. It’s facilities have been improved and it has been a wonderful centre for activities for the young and old of Rondeau Park.
Club History 1932 – 1958
In the Secretary’s minutes of the first records we have, the meeting was held in May. Those present were Commodore P.G. Piggott, A.B. Park, Gordon Piggott, Syd Wilson, W.G. Kerr, W.H. Bragg, J.B. Kerr, D.G. Kerr, G.G. McKeough, Lester Stokes, Wm. Poile, A.N. Knowles, Norman Cummings, T.J. Bresnahan, Henry Messiner, and Secretary Ernie Ansell.
The meeting was held weekly, with every fourth meeting to include the ladies. At the meeting mentioned above, they appointed a Race Committee, a Course Committee, and a Regatta Committee. It was decided that there would be a series of seven races for the trophy with the first boat to receive 3 points, the second 2 points and the third 1 point. The races were to be held at 10am each Sunday. A pennant was adopted with maize letters on a blue background, and these were to be presented to the first three boats for the series. The races were held from McRobb’s dock, which was just east of the Lakeview Hotel. At this time, all the boats were dinghies of a length not more than 18 feet with one sail not more than 215 square feet.
The scrapbook for 1932 contains several accounts of the races held at that time and programs for the Regatta, which was, and all day affair held on Civic Holiday and probably a continuation of the Scottish Picnic. It attracted hundreds of people to watch the boat races, both sail and power and to participate in all kinds of swimming events. There were numerous prizes donated by interested Chatham merchants.
It was in this year that Chuck Piggott, 13 year old son of Commodore and Mrs. P.G. Piggott was proclaimed the winner of a rowboat donated by Pop Weir to the members of the Erieau Yacht Club in a special contest staged during a series of races on the Bay. Chuck compiled 15 points in the contest.
In 1933 a new type of boat made an appearance on the Bay. Dr. Kenneth Crow of Detroit and a member of the Rondeau Yacht Club designed and built a lark. Dr. Crow persuaded the Weir brothers to build others and they produced ten the first year. More than 300 of this type of boat were built by the two brothers. Following their death in the sixties, Les Stokes began building larks, maintaining and repairing the old ones.
By 1947 the larks were replacing the old boats and there were 15 in each of the fleets. Les Stokes donated a trophy for the Lark Class and Bill Poile donated one for the dinghies. The winners of each class sailed off for the Richards Trophy and the Club Championship. It was in this year that Jim Richards presented the Erieau Yacht Club with a starting gun, which he had made in his workshop. The next year Jim Stokes made and presented to the Club a carrier for the gun. In this year, too, J.G. Little donated a tower to carry the signal flags, which greatly facilitated the starting of the races. These valuable gifts were still in use in the late sixties.
In 1935, G.G. McKeough became Commodore of the Club. During his term of office a Junior Class was created and the Commodore donated a trophy for the Junior Champion of the Club. Also, during this year Mrs. Roy Park donated a cup for the B Class boats. The time for the races was changed from 10am to 2:30pm and then back to 10:30am. The location was changed from McRobb’s Dock to Mott’s Dock, which was behind the Lakeview Hotel. The Yacht Club hired a boatswain for $2.00 a week for July and August, whose duty it was to look after the boats.
The meetings of this period were nearly always held at the Lakeview Hotel following a “delicious fish dinner”. The attendance was around 30 and from the tone of the minutes, a good time was had by all.
With the outbreak of World War II, activities in the Club were suspended for the duration as many of the members were serving in the Armed Forces.
At the end of the war, thanks to the inspiration and hard work of Hartland Rankin, the Erieau Yacht Club was re-activated. T.J. Bresnahan called a meeting for this purpose and S.B. Arnold was elected Commodore in 1945. Fees were set at $2.00 a family, $1.00 single, and 50c for Juniors. The Executive agreed on the need for a dock for the Club. This was constructed the following year and was 400 feet in length. In order to pay for this structure fees were raised to $5.00 a family, $3.00 single and $1.00 for Juniors. It was in 1947 that the custom of presenting the incoming Commodore with a cap was inaugurated. The point scoring system was changed to include the first seven boats with the wining boat receiving 7 points, the second boat 6 points, etc.
Acting on a suggestion made my Mrs. Wm. Poile, a new venture was undertaken in 1949. Sally Kerr (Mrs. Jim Jenkin) was hired as a swimming instructress to teach the children of the members. Since its introduction, the swimming program has been a tremendous success. Robin Poile was the youngest person in Canada to pass the Intermediate Red Cross Test at the age of 6. Bob Rankin received the Carnegie Award for saving the life of a sailor who got into difficulties. Richard Sievert recovered a body from the channel with his scuba diving equipment.
Two years later, Mrs. W.W. Turner donated an annual trophy to be awarded to the youngest child to learn to swim a specified distance in the current year. This is a fine incentive to keep the tadpoles working on their lessons.
It was about this time that the custom of starting the season with a Wiener Roast was introduced, and for some years it was held behind member’s cottages on the Lakeside. This is very popular with the young members and provides a good reunion for the seniors. Another addition to the organization was the appearance of Dock Talk. This newsletter had Mary Ann Dalton as its first editor and she did an excellent job of informing the members of the Club’s activities.
By 1953 the number of dinghies had dwindled to two as old boats were replaced with larks. By 1957 the Pied Piper Parade provided a dazzling start to the Annual Regatta and this event proved such a delight that it has been continued every year.
After our new dock was purchased in 1946 we obtained permission from the Town Council to use one of the road ends, Third Street, for it’s location. This later became quite public and the Club could not control the use of their own dock. Banquets and special events were usually held at the hotel at Erieau or sometimes in the Town of Blenheim. Swimming was taught in the dock area, but rainy cold days made it difficult for the instructors to carry on.
The First Club House
As our club grew in strength, it became apparent that it would be a wonderful advantage to have our own property where the use of the dock could be controlled; a home for the swimmers could be used to advantage, particularly on rainy days, and the teaching of crafts and the theory of sailing could be expanded.
In the summer of 1957, the enthusiasm of membership was at a high point. The Executive, sensing that this was the time to move, formed a Property Committee headed by Bill Coltart, Tom Drew, and Bev Easton. A letter was sent to all members on August 21st, asking them whether they would support the Club if ways and means could be found to purchase property. The immediate response was encouraging and the Property Committee started its first of several meetings towards this end.
During the early winter of 1958 the Committee, ably assisted by Lester Stokes and Bob Parsons, were able to get a commitment from the executors of the estate, which was handling the desired property, and the offer to purchase was accepted. In the mean time incorporation proceedings were started, as this was necessary to enable the Club to hold property. At a meeting at the Erieau Town Hall on June 14th, 1958, the members enthusiastically approved the action of the Executive and the project was well on its way to completion. On Sunday, August 10, 1958 the property was dedicated in a very inspiring service.
The New Club House
In 1960, Commodore R.S. Parsons gave outstanding leadership for a new project – to build better facilities on our recently acquired property. It was only through his personal effort and generous donations that this miracle was accomplished.
On August 27th, 1958 the first meeting of the Directors took place after successfully applying for a charter for the purpose of accepting the Letters of Patent incorporating Erieau Yacht Club as a corporation and for proceeding to organize the corporation. Letters Patent had been granted by the Province of Ontario May 23rd, 1958. May meetings had been held by the Executive of the former incorporated Erieau Yacht Club to establish a pattern for the By-laws of the corporation. The Chairman Mr. Beverly E. Easton requested that there be elected from the Directors, Officers of the Corporation, namely a President and Vice-President and that a Secretary and a Treasurer be appointed.
On a motion duly carried Beverly E. Easton was elected President; Thomas A. Drew was elected Vice-President; William A. Coltart was appointed Secretary. Tom Morrison was appointed Treasurer of the Corporation.
The President then presented to the meeting By-law Number 1 of the Corporation, containing paragraphs 1 to 29, inclusive, setting out a code for the administration of the Corporation, conditions of membership, and authorizing the issue of $10,000 of Bonds as therein set out. The motion carried and By-law Number 1 was enacted.
In 1959 the Club thought it advisable to increase the number of directors to five (5) which was done and included: President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, Director 1 and Director 2.
Officers Listed in 1967 included: Commodore, Vice-Commodore, Rear Commodore, Secretary, and a Treasurer.