TORONTO — A couple of weekends ago, Commodore David Baskin anchored his boat in Toronto’s inner harbor, sat back and watched other boats sail by. As they did, they dipped their sails in salute.
The Sail Past is an annual event at the Island Yacht Club (IYC), but this year it had added significance. Not only does it mark the official start of the boating season, but this year it was part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Island Yacht Club.
The Sail Past was followed by a reception at the club, located on Mugg’s Island, attended by numerous dignitaries. MPP Monte Kwinter, himself a member of the club, brought greetings from Premier Dalton McGuinty, while the club’s two surviving original members, Cecil Yolles and Richard Lorie, hoisted the Canadian flag on the club’s premises.
As part of the celebrations, longstanding member Hartley Robins and his wife, Brooky, prepared a historical exhibit for members, reflecting the club’s storied past.
Members gathered for a commodore’s ball, part of the official launch of the season, and they watched historic videos of the club’s early days on the Toronto waterfront.
Rounding out the celebrations was the creation of a “burgee flag” that each boat will fly, noting the club’s “60 years on the lake.”
Robins, a member since 1956, recalled that the IYC was started because Jews at the time were not accepted as members by other sailing clubs. A small number of sailing enthusiasts, and others who were looking for a country club experience, launched the club in 1951.
Their first year on the water was 1952, hence the 60th anniversary.
There were about 15 to 20 members at first, but it quickly grew. A membership drive attracted many “social members” who didn’t know a bow line from a bagel.
Families enjoyed the swimming pool and tennis courts in a beautiful setting, Robins said.
At the time it cost only about $50 to join and a few years later the price was still an affordable $75 to $125.
The club quickly grew to 300 members and then 350.
The established clubs didn’t know what to make of the Jewish sailors.
“We were still looked upon in a different light – they didn’t think we knew how to sail,” Robins said.
“It was decided to go into racing classes. We had a very active racing group at that time,” he continued.
Sailing 5.5-metre boats and Olympic class vessels, the IYC sailors “concentrated on racing fleets and did very well in them.”
IYC sailors Mel Gould and Jerry Conway teamed up with a friend who sailed at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to represent Canada at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, though they didn’t do too well, Robins said.
Back in those days, the club was the place to be. The Murray Alter Orchestra was the house band, playing twice a week. There were fashion shows, a thriving children’s playground, a “tweener” group for kids in their early teens. “It was always a family club,” he said.
The IYC has had its ups and downs over its 60-year history, but it remains a going concern, said Baskin.
In June 2004, the IYC suffered a major setback when its clubhouse caught fire and burned down.
“The fire was a devastating blow for the club,” acknowledged Baskin. “We lost the historic clubhouse and memorabilia, and some members did not come back.”
With no locker room or dining facility, the club operated out of tents and many members who used to take advantage of the fine dining, Friday-night dinners and other activities looked elsewhere.
Some older members simply gave up sailing, some joined other yacht clubs and others became cottagers.
“We lost members who never came back,” Baskin said, even after the IYC constructed an award-winning clubhouse. “The club has not achieved the membership levels it had before the fire.”
Prior to the fire, IYC boasted 110 boating members and 40 social members (memberships are based on family units). That worked out to about 300 to 400 people. Currently, the club has 80 boating members and 25 social members.
In many respects, the IYC offers the same sort of premium qualities it once did, with a beautiful clubhouse in a gorgeous setting, as well as a renovated pool, tennis courts and a strong kitchen.
“We think it’s a great, undiscovered jewel, but we’re not successful in getting the news out,” Baskin conceded.
The club has hired a public relations firm to help it make a pitch for new members. Fees are competitive, Baskin said, with social memberships running at $2,100 per year and boating memberships costing $3,495 per year. In addition, a $4,000 initiation fee is payable over four years, he said.
“We’d love to have more members. We think we offer a tremendous experience for a very reasonable price,” Baskin said.