The Beginning - 1881
In the summer of 1881 a group of prominent Winnipeg gentlemen and their ladies met together to formally enjoy each others company and the new sport of Lawn Tennis. The location of this first summer’s activity is unknown, but the first organized Tennis in the Province of Manitoba (admitted as a Province into the Dominion of Canada only 8 short years earlier) was obviously successful since the following spring the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club was formally established with the following executive officers:
PRESIDENT — Judge J. A. Miller
SECRETARY — G. F. Brophy
LADY PATRONESS Mrs. Aikins
MANAGING COMMITTEE — A. F. Eden
F. W. Stobart
L. M. Lewis
W. T. Kirby
A. H. Dickens
G. W. Allan
H. E. Crawford
The Early Years
The first tournament was held at the new club in August of 1882. Unfortunately due to a lack of records from this period the first Club Champion is unknown.
In the spring of 1883 permission was received to lay out a grass court at the Winnipeg Driving Club located on the present site of Memorial Park in downtown Winnipeg. Membership in 1883 was limited to forty members with play being confined to a single grass court.
In 1885, as a result of a membership which had now risen to 200, the club moved to the Manitoba College site (the presently vacant site of the old St. Paul's College on the north side of Ellice Avenue between Kennedy and Balmoral) where three grass courts were laid out at an expense of $300 (a princely sum in those days which today would buy you a nice tennis racquet). It was here, at the Manitoba College site, that the first Manitoba Tennis Championships were held in 1885; with the men’s singles title going to A. H. Dickens — a nephew of Sir Charles Dickens.
In 1886 over 180 members were entered in the club tournament, where Mr. A. H. Dickens reigned supreme for the second year in a row.
The Club was on the move again the following year, relocating to a site on Broadway near Osborne Street. The Club remained at this site on Broadway for the next 12 years. During this period many of Winnipeg’s finest families were represented in the Club’s membership rolls. Prominent families of the day who were members of the club included, Adams, Tupper, Bain, Galt, Currie, Nares, Archibald, Dickens, Waghorn, Scarth, Ewart, Nanton and many others.
In 1897 the Club made its last move for seventy-five years when it settled on Roslyn Road just west of Osborne Street. The original five courts at the Roslyn Road site were once again laid out on grass (three of which required resodding in 1901 due to the heavy play and harsh winter conditions).
In 1902 the Club found itself strapped for funds due to-heavy taxes and the cost of local improvements (that sounds familiar!). As a result of this financial squeeze the fronting property along Roslyn Road was sold off leaving only enough property to accommodate five courts and the “pavilion”.
In 1905 the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club in effect became the Winnipeg “Shale” Tennis Club when the grass courts were torn out and replaced with natural Manitoba shale on a cinder base.
Free Tennis Balls
Club records show that on April 27th, 1908 it was moved and carried that the Club would supply tennis balls from May 15th to August 15th each year—a tradition that has continued through thick and thin and is still in effect today. This long standing policy makes the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club unique in the history of the game and is one of the many little things that contribute to the friendly atmosphere of the WLTC.
In 1914 the courts were again dug up and replaced with new shale courts on a crushed rock base. The courts were claimed to be the finest in the Dominion at the time. As well as the rebuilding of the courts, 1914 also saw the renovation of the “Tennis Pavilion” at a cost of $2,053.
In 1915 Mr W. D. Love a top ranking local player was elected President of the WLTC, a post he was to retain for 16 years. The administration of the Club’s affairs during this period was stabilized by the continuity provided by Mr Love’s lengthy involvement with the Club.
The early years of the 1900’s saw the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club home to many of the top players in the country. As an example, the following four members of the Club were appointed to the 1914 Canadian Davis Cup team; H. G. Mayes, Paul Bennett, G. H. Holmes and F. W. Leistikow. These four players and Club President W. D. Love dominated local tennis for many years and also added a number of national titles to their collection. In 1919 Bennett and Holmes won the Canadian Open Doubles Championship defeating a highly ranked American team in the finals.
In August of 1920 the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club hosted the Canadian Tennis Championships with the cream of Canada’s players, as well as many outstanding American players, entered. Paul Bennett of the WLTC pulled off an unprecedented hat-trick by winning the singles championship over Rennie of Toronto 6-3, 8-6, 6-4, teaming with Leistikow to defeat two Americans from Minneapolis in the men’s doubles, and with Miss Maxwell to reign victorious in the mixed doubles event. In the Davis Cup competition of 1921, both Paul Bennett and G. H. Holmes were unanimous choices to the Canadian Davis Cup team, with Bennett playing both singles and doubles. Unfortunately Canada was drawn against Australia and went down to defeat 5-0.
During the Thirties
By 1925 the domination of the local tennis scene by Bennett, Holmes and Leistikow was drawing to a close as Walter Gyles won the first of many major local tournaments that he was to dominate for nearly a decade.
It was not until the Manitoba Open Championship of 1934 that Walter Gyles was to be defeated when the youngster, Ed McKush, prevailed in a straight three set victory in the final match. McKush then went on to victory that same year in the City Championships and the Western Championships, both times teaming with brother Otto to take the men’s doubles event as well.
The following year, the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club hosted the 50th Manitoba Tennis Championship. This tournament had been held continuously at the Club since it was first held in 1885. Only the war years from 1915 to 1918 were missed.
During the l930’s many tennis clubs were thriving in the City. At one time during the 1930’s Broadway, from Osborne to Main Street, was known as tennis row with approximately 7 clubs operating on this short length of street. Most of these clubs competed in the City interclub league. The “A” division of the interclub league was consistently dominated by the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Unfortunately the interclub league was discontinued during the war years and never recovered afterwards.
For the first time in 1935 women could become full members of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Prior to 1935 club membership was open only to men, although women could play restricted hours as "tea members". It was not a chance that was made enthusiastically, but one that was caused by the harsh economics of the thirties.
After the War
Membership in most clubs suffered during the war years and the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club was no different. Golf was also proving to be a more and more popular attraction.
In the Manitoba Championships of 1941 Herb Richards was victorious in the men’s singles and also teamed with George Felstead for the doubles crown. In 1942 the Manitoba Championships were cancelled due to a shortage of tennis balls and not resumed until 1946, by which time Herb Richards had returned from the war to defeat George Felstead in the finals. The Felstead family more than held their own that year as Vi Felstead won both the ladies’ singles and doubles titles while George teamed with Herb Richards to take the men’s doubles. The 1946 final of the Manitoba Open was anticlimatic though compared to an earlier round match that saw John Dyer defeat a young John Adelman after a 2 1/2 hour battle.
In 1947 Tennis reached the big time when Jack Matheson (“Matty”) covered the Manitoba Open for the Tribune.
In 1948, Reg Hugo, President of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, was elected President of the Manitoba Lawn Tennis Association (MLTA). Meanwhile across town at the Wildewood Club, players were commending President Lloyd Borland for the splendid job he did in getting the courts back into shape after the flood. (Good practise for two years later Lloyd !).
In January 1949 the Wildewood Club burned to the ground (not for the last time) and President Lloyd Borland estimated the damage at $75,000. Reg Hugo repeated as President of both the WLTC and MLTA while John Adelman of the newly organized Jewish Youth Club was named Vice-President of the MLTA.
The Club did not open until June 19th in 1950 due to pre-occupation of most members with the flood. Although the Club did not suffer any direct flood damage many members did. Many other clubs like the Wildewood, Canoe Club, Riverside, Kildonan etc. were not so lucky and were not back in business until much later in the year.
During the 1940’s, l950’s, and early l960’s the name of the game for Tennis Clubs in Winnipeg was survival, and most of them didn’t. Fortunately the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club did—but just! Membership at the club dipped as low as 60 putting great strain on the budget to maintain the facilities and pay the taxes. It was obviously a period requiring considerable volunteer work by the executive and the membership.
The WLTC served as a shelter in a storm during this period for members who migrated to the Club, as various tennis clubs around the City folded due to a lack of interest and changing recreational attitudes. In 1959 the Riverside Tennis Club was sold for development purposes, resulting in the WLTC gaining a number of avid new members who remain active today. That same year saw a number of others arrive from the Jewish Youth Centre as it folded. Members also arrived during this period from Deer Lodge and Sir John Franklin as they struggled and faltered during this period.
During the 1950’s WLTC members were prominent in the Provincial Tennis scene with Art Foster heading the men’s events and Joy Campbell coming over from Sir John Franklin to dominate the women’s events. By the 1960’s domination of the local tennis scene had switched to Jim Ioanidis and Judy Borland.
By the early 1960’s, as a result of deteriorating facilities and rapidly escalating taxes, considerable thought was being given to various alternatives including relocation or improving the existing facilities by rebuilding the clubhouse or constructing a swimming pool. Due to the very low membership level, however, these plans did not materialize.
In 1962 the “big three” were reduced to two when the Wildewood Club elected to construct a curling rink on their six shale courts. The Wildewood courts had seen a number of Canadian Junior Champions developed under the direction of Lloyd Borland who with a number of his champions including Maria Stubbs, Nancy O’Brien, Eleanor O’Gorman, Rick and Judy Borland, made the trip over to the W.L.T.C.
By 1969 the membership in the Club was hovering around the 115 level. A number of members, and former members, of the club were selected to represent the Province of Manitoba in the first Canadian Summer Games held in Halifax. Eleanor O’Gorman and a “slightly” pregnant Judy Peake won the silver medal in the Ladies’ Doubles while Rick Borland placed fourth in the Men’s Singles. The Manitoba tennis team distinguished itself by finishing fourth behind the big three of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
Planning a Change
After many years of deliberating the die was finally cast. The property on Roslyn Road was sold in 1970 to Canada Safeway for $125,000. It now became imperative that a new home be found as the possession date for Safeway was fixed to be October 31st, 1971.
Negotiations with the City of Winnipeg, to relocate the WLTC to the Sir John Franklin Community Club site on Wellington Crescent, continued through the Winter of 1970/ 71 but came to an unfortunate end with impossible conditions being laid down by the City Council of the day. Next a site on Taylor Avenue was considered and rejected (the site is now occupied by The Taylor Tennis Club). Fortunately in the summer of 1971 a number of old Wildewood Club members suggested - What about the Wildewood Club? Discussions began immediately and a mutually beneficial agreement agreed to.
A special meeting was held on the lawn of the old Tennis Club where it was agreed to make the final move by constructing 8 red on green laykold tennis courts along the banks of the Red-River adjacent to the Wildewood Club. Construction began immediately after final discussions with the Rural Municipality of Fort Garry were completed. The base course, asphalt surface and fencing were placed before Winter called a halt to construction. Long time members cleaned out their lockers (and the club) for the final time at the Roslyn Road site (what ever did happen to the famous shower head?).
A New Start
The 1972 season opened with play initially taking place on the unfinished asphalt surface, where lines were painted until the top laykold surface could be placed. Due to an aggressive marketing campaign and considerable renewed interest in Tennis in the Fort Garry Community, membership rose from approximately 150 members the year before to 525 members during the first year at the new site. With many features of the new facilities not totally complete, the year proved to be a trying period for President Rick Borland and the rest of the club executive. However, the members were patient and the facilities eventually completed.
In 1973 club member George Wojtowicz designed the “gazebo” which was subsequently constructed (shown above). Unfortunately in the spring of this same year, the Wildewood Club facilities were destroyed by fire which caused further inconvenience for WLTC members. This same year the WLTC played host to the Canadian Under 21 Championships won by Rejean Genois and Janice Tindle.
By 1974 the facilities of the new club were nearing completion when lighting was added to the first four courts. This court lighting dramatically extended the hours of play available to members throughout the season. The following year the Prairie Regional Junior Championships were held at the new courts for the second time.
Further improvements were made in 1976 with the resurfacing of the eight original courts in order to slow down the surface. The following year two new courts were added at the east end of the original eight. A total of ten high calibre courts were now available to the 620 members of the WLTC.
In 1979 the small dyke separating the courts from the Red River proved its worth as the spring flood waters rose to within 6 inches of the top.
By 1980 the Club was operating smoothly and at full capacity with the future off to an excellent start as we enter our second 100 years of tennis.
Pan Am Games
The Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club underwent a dramatic face lift in preparation for the Pan Am games. A new club house was built and the courts were resurfaced and expanded. The Pan Am games were a huge success and left us with a club facility that is second to none in Manitoba, and one of the finest in Canada.
As a test event, the Ladies Challenger Tournament was hosted by the WLTC in 1998. This event was an International Tennis Federation Tournament. Women from such far away countries as Japan, Israel, and Germany were there in hopes of improving their world rankings and making it to the top pro tournaments. Women ranked 200 and beyond brought with them a caliber of play that was truly incredible to watch. In 1999, the Pan Am Games came to the WLTC. More details on the Pan Am Games tennis can be found on wikipedia.
2000 and Beyond
In 2000 the Ladies Challenger Tournament was hosted by the WLTC, again. This event was an International Tennis Federation Tournament. Women from such far away countries as Japan, Israel, and Germany were there in hopes of improving their world rankings and making it to the top pro tournaments. Women ranked 200 and beyond brought with them a caliber of play that was truly incredible to watch.
Junior Mid-West ITF Gr. 5 Tournament came to WLTC in 2010, bringing top juniors into the city from around the world to compete for ITF Ranking Points.
In 2006 the WLTC celebrated its 125th anniversary.