By: Ken Elliott, Originally published 1999
An ongoing saga of Toronto’s ‘North Shore’ which started with the Leslie Spit, the addition of the Outer Harbour Marina and continues with Waterfront Toronto’s ambitious Lake Ontario Park, our members may wonder just how and why we got started there in the first place.
The Outer Harbour Centreboard Club began as a result of several happy factors occurring at about the same time. In the late nineteen-sixties, dinghy sailing for the “little” sailor was an increasing need waiting to be filled. Pleasure craft in greater numbers were being imported into, or were being designed and built, in Canada, then sold or rented to a growing surge of ex-Europeans who had sailed Over There and were trying to do the same over here.
Earlier, in the late nineteen-fifties, the Toronto Harbour Commission had started building an off-shore weather wall south from Leslie Street. This was to protect a stretch of water at the derelict lakeside property east of Toronto Islands. The idea was for a deep-water container port that was not feasible in the already crowded and undredgeable Inner Harbour. Thus, the now famous Leslie Street Spit started growing with material from demolition sites, subway construction and high-rise excavation.
In the early seventies, the container port was no longer viable and the THC found that they controlled an area of protected water of some 200-plus hectares with very little happening in or around it: it was a place that was absolutely ideal for little boats, and with an off-shore park in the side! The THC then made it known that this stretch of water and some property on the north side of it would be offered to responsible sailing groups, rent free.
Some dinghies in the established clubs were feeling the pressure of keel boat fees, and other groups with no home were looking for something more permanent. This offer, even though only a temporary basis, was taken up quickly. Public meetings in late 1972 were attended by, not only Mirror Dinghy, Albacore and Wayfarer sailors but by other burgeoning groups with no place to call their own: multihulls, Sail Ontario, community clubs and catamarans.
Out of public meetings between THC and sailors, together with private meetings of one-design enthusiasts, evolved the Outer Harbour Sailing Federation – seven unpretentious clubs with meagre finances but with lots of guts. Each group had its specialty: communally-owned dinghies; a sailing school; catamarans; handbuilt multihulls (to swing on moorings) and our very own Centreboard Club.
OHCC, limited to dinghies of 16 feet or less, grew out of the endeavours of several public spirited sailors and the Mirror Dinghy Association ‹ an enterprising group that sailed from Cherry Beach every week, trailing or car-topping their craft. One of their members hustled around to find owners of CLs, Flippers, Wayfarers, etc. – people who kept their dinghies in driveways or who were being squeezed out of pricey keelboat clubs. The result of all this effort was that the THC was presented with a paid up membership and a constitution. In short, we had a club ready to go. During the first full year of operation, 1973, the OHCC membership was 55 and was comprised, like today, of experts, tyros, families and racing hawks. Aside from making fools of themselves on, in and sometimes under the water, this gung-ho crew scraped, dug, planted, built, landscaped and even sailed themselves into a lively and nationally known do-it-yourself organization that today is solvent, pays rent to the new landlord City of Toronto (and pays taxes, too) and looks back with some satisfaction on what it has achieved.
One of the first requirements was to keep the club inexpensive, and so it remains. This was partly due to its tenuous relationship with first landlord THC and also due to the members’ needs. The club acquired a clubhouse, committee and crash boats, and kept them, with the site, in good condition. As today, it had neither running water nor hydro nor public transit and it could depend on its dusty road to turn to mud at the least provocation. (Hydro has been installed since this was written, and the road is tar-sealed – JPO). But, again like today, it had a happy, enthusiastic membership
OHCC membership in 1992, including associates, now stands at 173 with several classes of dinghies: 505’s, CLs, Wayfarers, 470’s, Albacores, Tasers, Lasers and Miscellaneous, with International Fourteens rising fast. The club has membership in the Ontario Sailing Association and in Canadian Yachting Association, which, with certain commercial companies, provide some funding, equipment or technical expertise and equipment when necessary.
Like most sail clubs world wide, OHCC centres around racing: twice-a-week during the evening and sometimes local or national regattas at weekends. This schedule extends from May to October with non-sailing activities during the winter months. The annually-elected executive meets frequently and has separate committees for contact with the other clubs in the Federation, and with local government and in planning for the future.
That future has always contained elements of uncertainty. The basin once designed for us on the Spit now seems closed to all but the birds. But our new landlord, the City, looks on us favourably. Whether we stay where we are, or are shunted to a different site, it looks as if we can look forward with increasing confidence to a spot somewhere on our Harbour. We shall have to learn to live with public parks, light industry and perhaps even a public walkway between our grounds and the water’s edge. But with all that, we’ll continue to enjoy our protected, if reduced, waters of the Outer Harbour.