Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club was officially founded in 1903. It is located on Yacht Club Island approximately 2 miles from Kenora, Ontario on Lake of the Woods. With over 14,000 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline stretching from Kenora in the north to Warroad, Minnesota in the south, Lake of the Woods features excellent sailing condtion.
History of RLWYC
The first record of sailing on Lake of the Woods dates back to 1845 when the Hudson’s Bay Company introduced York Boats to support the transportation of their furs. These boats were equipped with sails that were used in favourable conditions. The earliest camps were built on Keewatin Beach and for twenty years, until the first motorboats were introduced in the late 1890’s, canoeing, rowing and sailing were the only means of transportation.
These early campers gathered on Sundays on the west end of Keewatin Beach and participated in sailing, rowing, and gymkhana events. By 1898 cruising races started from a site on McMillan Island. One of the earliest of these cruises was up the Keewatin Channel to Galt Island where G.F Galt and his family hosted a picnic lunch. The cruising race took all day and it was something families looked forward to with great anticipation.
By 1904 there were several classes of boats competing in races. These included the following:
- Class A
Sloop rigged 25′ over all, 350′ sail area, crew of four, five if permission granted, but crew not to exceed 650 lbs.
- Class B
Sloop rigged 23′ over all, 300′ sail area, crew of four, five if permission granted, but not to exceed 600 lbs
- Class C
Sloop rigged 21′ over all, 250′ sail area, crew of three, permission to 4, not to exceed 550 lbs
- Cat Boats
18′ over all, sail area 200′, crew not to exceed three, no weight limit.
- Cat Boats
16′ over all, sail are 175′, crew of three.
14′ over all, sail area 140′, crew up to three
In the first year of operation over 30 sailboats participated in regular racing at the club. Apart from the sailboat races the club was also a social centre. There were gymkhana events with canoes, rowboat races, swimming races, and motorboat racing.
In 1908 a fire consumed Cameron Island and the present Yacht Club Island. As the Yacht Club had outgrown its current site the executive agreed to purchase Yacht Club Island in 1908 for $1,622. The present Club House was built at a cost of $4,942 with the new docks adding another $400. To fulfill the new commitments the Yacht Club was formerly incorporated on April 20, 1909 and a constitution was drawn up. The membership consisted of 15 life members, 125 senior members (over 21), and 30 junior members. To finance the new expansion a $5,000 debenture was sold to the Northern Trust Company. The sale of the old property to Sir Daniel McMillan, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, realized $2,200 and an additional $1,400 dollars were raised through the sale of club life memberships. The officers running the club were: Commodore G.F. Bryan, Vice Commodore G.F. Galt; Rear Commodore T. Lee Peter; Treasurer R.W. Paterson and Measurer F.B. Matthews. There was a sailing committee, motor boat committee and house committee.
In 1910 the 32′ sloop with scow type bow was introduced to the Yacht Club. This was a popular boat with our American friends in Minneapolis. In 1912 the Lake of the Woods Yacht Club hosted the first of a series of races against White Bear Yacht Club of St Paul.
By 1913 the fleet of sailboats at the Yacht Club included seven 32′ sloop/scows, six 25′, eight 23’s and 21’s, seven 18′ Cats and 9 Dinghies. The cups being competed for were: the Club Cup for 32’s, the Phillips Cup for 25’s, the Aldous Cup for 23’s and 21’s, the Patton Cup for 18′ Cats, the Mathewson Cup for 14′ Dinghies, the Galt Cup for boats over 18′ on a handicap basis, the Macara Cup for boats 18′ and under on a handicap basis.
In 1914 the His Royal Highness and Princess Patricia visited the Yacht Club. It was said that they fell in love with the lake and suggested that the Yacht Club apply for the title of “Royal”. The privilege was delayed because of the war but was granted some ten years later.
1914 was also marked by the outbreak of war. This hit the club hard. The races had to be cancelled as most of the membership was in the trenches and many had lost their lives. The Club was closed for a period of four years. A few of the older men agreed to put up money to keep the premises from deteriorating. To add further to this misfortune the Club lost its docks in the ice in 1916-17.
Sir Augustus Nanton took over the helm as Commodore in 1920, which lead to a rebirth for the Yacht Club. The docks were repaired and the club executive successfully raised the funds to retire the debt to the Northern Trust Company. The 20′ “C” class Scow was introduced along with some new formalities in terms of rules and dress code. Ladies were dressed for teas and social dances and the gentlemen wore white flannels with blazers, when not sailing, and white duck pants or fine khaki when sailing. The membership had dropped to 80 from 135 in 1914. As a result the shortage of crewmembers was filled by eager young Juniors who had become accustomed to hanging around the docks waiting for invitations from the older members. Apart from the new 20′ scows the 18′ cat boats and 14′ Dinghies were also seen at races.
In 1925 Commodore G.F. Galt was notified that His Majesty King George V had granted the use of “Royal” to the Lake of the Woods Yacht Club. The Duke of Connaught had kept his promise.
The Club applied for a Warrant for a Blue Ensign with the badge of the Club in the fly. This was refused by the British Admiralty because Lake of the Woods was an inland lake, not connected to the sea, and the yachts of the Club members were unregistered. The Colonial Office suggested that the Canadian Government could issue a warrant for a special ensign. Ottawa pointed out that there was no procedure for the Dominion Government to give yachts permission to fly the Blue Ensign, and suggested that this power should be given to the Canadian Minister of National Defence. When this was opposed by the Admiralty, the Colonial Office suggested that a warrant might be issued by the King. This prompted a Memo from the Head of Naval Law in which he wrote:
“It may be inconvenient if, as a result of this application, machinery is set-up and a procedure established by which, on recommendation of the Colonial Office, a Royal warrant may be issued for the use of special ensigns by Dominion and Colonial vessels. Though the Admiralty cannot legally prevent the irregular use of special ensigns on inland waters, they have a strong interest in seeing that any misuse of the ensign is discouraged. It is common for the Admiralty to ask that the irregular use of special ensigns on inland waters and buildings may be discontinued, and their request is usually successful. It is not unreasonable to claim that, if on inland waters vessels are to be authorised to fly a special ensign, their authorisation shall proceed from the Admiralty.”
In October 1924 the Colonial Office wrote to the Governor-General saying that it was important that the Blue Ensign was not used even on inland waters without authority, and that therefore the Admiralty would issue a warrant. Details of the Club were forwarded to the Admiralty and a warrant dated 17 March 1925 was issued. The warrant was unique in that it permitted use of the special ensign by yachts that were not registered as British vessels, and without any further warrant from the Admiralty. If any vessel wanted to fly the Club Blue Ensign in other waters, a separate warrant would have been necessary.
This designation also meant the vessels of members of the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club could fly the Blue Ensign with the Club’s Crest in the Fly.
Special ensigns for Canadian yacht clubs came to an end in 1965 when the present Canadian flag was introduced, but Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club continues to fly its original special ensign on the port halyard of the Club flagpole with the Flag of Canada on the gaff.
1925 is also significant in the club’s history as the year the first formalized sailing training for Juniors was developed. Mr. D.J. Dinnen, a young man who had been brought up to sail in Britain where rules and customs were strictly adhered to, opened the first sailing school. He began by dividing the Juniors into the “Ports” and the “Starboards”. These groups raced against each other and at the end of the season they all sat down to write a formal exam. Mr. Dinnen wrote a very comprehensive training book that sits in the Club Archives. It covers all the details that young sailors learned in those days.
The 1930’s were a difficult time for the club. The depression had set in and club membership was at an all time low with the club in debt and the property in need of repairs. But as in previous times in its history the Commodore Patterson’s call to its staunch supporters was answered. Three supporters came through with enough money to pay the back taxes and get the club back on its feet. This revival also saw the rise of a new Dinghy class. This boat with jib and main sail was a big improvement over the old Cat rigged one-sail dinghies developing many good competitive sailors among the many new young members.
Unfortunately the 2nd World War caused the club to close for two years. But while it remained dormant the executive under the direction of Commodore G.E. Konantz was busy re-evaluating the racing fleet and condition of the buildings. It was decided that new 20′ “D” scows were needed. Also, the new “X” boats, a small sloop training boat was introduced. There was much enthusiasm from members. The August 1 holiday weekend was celebrated with the Grand Reunion Dance on the Saturday night. The foundation for the many successful years ahead was laid.
In 1948, RLWYC hosted the National Royal Regatta with five major Canadian Yacht Clubs competing. The Club’s first major victory was when light wind crew Bill and Gord Konantz and Gordon Chown came out on top. A renewed confidence encouraged the executive to try and renew the International series with the 20′ scow sailors of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The White Bear Yacht Club of St Paul along with the Neenah Yacht Club of Wisconsin returned to compete. Again Bill Konantz and his crew won.
It was 1958 when the new “Lightning” class of sailboat was introduced and the Club applied to the International Lightning Class Association for fleet status. At first there were local races with the newly formed Clearwater Bay Club and with the Yacht Club in Thunder Bay. Then as the Juniors became more proficient under the direction of Bill Brymer club members began to race elsewhere. Sandy Riley qualified as a Lightning sailor for the North Americans in 1967. Sandy also won the U.S. National Finn Championship, the Canadian Finn Championship as well as the first race at the 1976 Olympic Games held in Kingston. Stewart and David Sprague also represented Canada in the Lightning class worlds.
At the close of the sixties the Club was becoming a very busy place to be. In order to facilitate the need for a wider range of activities, a group of members struck a committee to investigate adding Tennis to the Club’s infrastructure.
At this time the clubhouse did not have a phone, and the building and grounds operated with the help of an old and tired Diesel generator. Forward thinking members successfully lead the Club through one of the first great expansions in its more recent history.
The early seventies saw the addition of 2 tennis courts being constructed. Along with that came a landline telephone service.
With this expansion came the need to administer to the Club’s youth while the adult members played tennis or sailed. Thus came about the early Junior Programs such as Arts & Crafts, sports activities, and Junior Dances. Of interest in 1975, Tara Parkhill became the youngest Junior Chair of any Yacht Club executive. All junior programs came under her guidance to enhance the needs of our youngest members.
Also in 1975 Peter Isaac raced in Australia and also represented the Club in the World Laser Regatta in the Bahamas. Peter along with Ian Peggs, Iain Smith and Gord Konantz were selected to represent Manitoba in the Canada Summer Games.
The seventies also saw the beginnings of the Power Squadron Cruises. These great adventures allowed novice boaters to follow an experienced navigator down the lake to visit many historical and beautiful places. Picnics would be held at various interesting spots on each cruise as members explored our wonderful lake.
In 1977 the first ‘Yachtion’ was held and on the end of the gavel was Laverne Fyke who over many years helped secure the Club much of the funding needed for upkeep and change.
Sailing instruction was re-worked in order to fit the needs of the times. Both the demographics of those attending and the boats used were changing. The Club adopted the Canadian Yachting Association’s Lean to Sail Program in which 58 students learned sailing theory and its practical applications. The Club hosted the under 16 Championship Regatta for the Manitoba Sailing Association.
In 1982 the RLWYC became a corporation without share capital, operated by it’s members through it’s executive. This initiative was taken in order to streamline the operations of the Club. In 1983 the RLWYC was the leading supporter among Canadian Yacht Clubs on a per capita basis towards Canada’s challenge to the America’s Cup.
In 1984 the Club hosted the Laser IV Regatta. The Yacht Club Dance held every August long weekend continued to raise fund’s much needed that went towards things like the new front staircase into the Club. This upgrade along with 2 new floating docks much improved the safety and the appearance of the Club.
1985 saw a long season for tennis with the courts opening May 18 and closing on Thanksgiving weekend. The District IV Laser and the Laser IV Regatta’s were both hosted by the Club. Four Laser 2’s were purchased.
In 1986 four more Laser 2’s were bought and 59 members enjoyed Sailing classes. The District Laser and Laser 2 Championships were hosted.
In 1988 the Club introduced its Promo-wear clothing and accessories. Members now had Club crested articles for all occasions. Four more new sailboats were added to the Club Fleet.
In 1989 a Canadian Yachting Association Travelling Instructor visited the RLWYC. The Sailing program and the Club were very busy with 60 students under instruction. The Club held 41 races at 16 different event and 2 Invitational Regatta’s were hosted. The Tennis program had 50 juniors and 29 senior members participating.
With the growing enjoyment of Tennis at the Club 1990 saw the addition of 2 more courts, a new tennis deck and a new surface and fence for the old courts. New washroom facilities and a new septic field were also added. The first Overwater Golf Tournament and fish fry fundraiser was held to the enjoyment of many club members. Sailing instruction now had 20 adults participating and Tennis Pro’s instructed 30 senior and 71 Junior’s in their programs.
1991 was a banner year for the RLWYC. Members attended 147 events in 60 days. Over 100 adult & junior sailors were under instruction. Many sailors participated in events outside the Club. Of note were:
The Club also hosted the MSA MIST Camp 91 with 45 young sailors in the 5-day race camp. Another visit by the CYA’s Sail Training Advisor drew this quote “Your program seems highly organized, well delivered and safe. Very impressive”
1995 saw the introduction of junior and senior Sailing Teams complete with dedicated coaches. The Club hosted the District IV and Laser Grand Prix as well as the Western Canadian Intermediate Championships. The Junior Tennis Program had over 100 participants.
In 1997 Sailing had over 140 juniors participating and the Club hosted the Manitoba Optimist Championships.
In 1999 the two oldest tennis courts were rebuilt. By the turn of the Millennium the RLWYC had progressed from a small group of like minded families to a Club strongly represented in the International Sailing community.
In 2000 the Club’s sailors were once again out on the international waters with some outstanding results. Royden Brousseau became the number 1 optimist sailor in Canada. Royden also won the 15 and under Manitoba Provincial Races. Raif Richardson became the number 1 Radial Sailor in Canada. Scott Brousseau won the provincial 13 and under championships. Bryce Brousseau won the 10 and under Provincial Championships, and Roy McLaughlin won the Western Intermediate Championships.
While the year 2000 saw all the Club activities running at full capacity, plans were being formulated to lay the groundwork for a major Capital Campaign that would tie into the Clubs upcoming 100th Anniversary as well as see the Club well on it’s way into this new millennium. Talk was heard of a complete refurbishing and an expansion including a Sailing Center, all to be re-opened with a Royal visit. What a grand plan. Who would lead and how many would follow?
Under the stewardship of co-Commodore’s Al McLaughlin and Colin Ferguson the Celebrating a Century of Summers campaign was struck. The other members of the committee were Hartley Richardson, Bryce & Nicki Douglas, Sanford Riley and Jennifer Fast. This group would spearhead the fundraising required to rebuild the Club and set the stage for it’s next 100 years.
It has to be said that in the year of the Club’s 100th anniversary, the membership came together with outstanding support for the RLWYC. Over 1 million dollars was raised and used to re develop the Club and it’s facilities. With a lead gift from the family of James A Richardson inspiring the rest of the membership, almost 100% of the members stepped forward to help. Of note however is the Sailing Centre addition that carries the name of James A. Richardson. From this point on, sailors receiving their training in this building will follow in the footsteps of a man and family whose passion for the Club and it’s primary sport, sailing, never wavered.
A Royal visit did occur with TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent attending a Royal Gala Dinner and re opening the Club. This was very fitting as it was the Prince’s Father, The Duke of Connaught and Princess Patricia, who were our first Royal visitors early in the RLWYC’s history so many years ago. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are now the Royal Patrons of the Club.
2003 was also notable in that the Club hosted the 2003 Canadian Optimist Championships. 60 sailors attended the races from across Canada. Our club members did very well, most notably Bryce Brousseau placing 5th and earning a spot on the World Canadian Optimist Sailing Team.
The RLWYC also put on the Century of summers Regatta. It was held to celebrate 100 years of sailing at the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club. The Regatta chairs were Jim Richardson and Sandy Riley. Sailors came from as far away as Gimli, Thunder Bay, Dryden and Falcon Lake. The Manitoba Sailing Team came en masse to show their support.
Bryce Brousseau came 1st in the Optimist Class followed by Van Bailey and Julia Bailey who were 2nd and 3rd.
The senior award went to Bill Konantz. The D Scow boat won “best old boat”.
This is just a brief outline of the history of the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club. A special 100th anniversary book is available providing much more detail and exquisite photographs of the Club during its first 100 years.
The Lake of the Woods is a unique and special place and the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club is a very special place upon that beautiful lake. Please feel free to come and visit us and view our facilities. We look forward to your arrival.