A Brief History of the Richmond Hill Squash Club

They say that history begins with a dream that transforms itself into a goal which then becomes reality. However, it doesn’t happen without a lot of energy, enthusiasm, commitment and a tremendous desire to succeed. This, in effect, is the story of the Richmond Hill Racquet Club – now known as the Richmond Hill Squash Club- and the dedication of its founder, Doug Allen.

The story begins in 1963 when a young architect (yes, the same Doug Allen) started a new architectural practice in Richmond Hill which had a population of approximately 33, 000 people.

In 1965, Doug considered starting a squash club in Richmond Hill as a result of being denied an out-of-town membership at Toronto Racquet Club. In the fall of that year, Doug held a meeting in his home after placing an ad in the local Liberal newspaper. There was a good turnout of 15 to 18 people but most of them were women. As the concept was a gentleman’s club – patterned after the TRC- this turnout was not exactly expected!

In 1966, Doug placed a second ad and the subsequent meeting was held in the Richmond Hill Library. Jim Mason, Barney Lawrence and Ian Stewart – all TRC members- attended along with 25 interested men, none of whom knew anything about the game of squash!

They were introduced to the game and given the concept of a members squash club. There were some “doubting Thomas’” but Barney Lawrence slapped down $100 for an out-of-town membership and soon about 20 men had paid an initiation fee of $250 each. This gave a starting capital of $5000 and the idea of RHSC was born.

1967 saw the start of seeking a site for the club. Earl Cameron- the senior CBC newscaster and Bud Cable, a local entrepreneur, owned a small slice of land on Ohio Road which was for sale for $13,000. They reduced their price to $11,000 after both were offered a lifetime membership in the club. How good was that! A lifetime membership in a club that didn’t exist for a sport they had never heard of!

Plans for the club were developed and surprisingly, 40 years later, after 7 alterations/additions, the original design remains almost intact.

1968 was the decision year. RHRC had the land and the design and about 50 commitments from prospective members (but not the cheques!). The club went to tender for 2 courts and associated facilities. The low tender, submitted by Grant Constructions was for $32, 000. Sounds fantastic but it was more than the club could handle. The work had to be scaled back to 1 court and the cost was reduced to $25,000. In the meantime, membership continued to grow. The club had approximately $5,000, a bank loan of $10,000 secured personally by 10 members and a second mortgage of $10, 000 with Doug Allen’s in-laws. Doug had to personally guarantee that mortgage!

Ted Moritsugu, an original member and a local CA was instrumental in these financial arrangements by producing some amazing “blue sky” income projections.

In the fall of 1969, the Mayor of Richmond Hill, Tom Broadhurst and the Mayor elect, Bill Lazenby participated in the sod turning ceremony which was attended by many of the members. It was a grand occasion and a good time was had by all.

Construction proceeded slowly through the winter of ’69 with Grant Construction. An interesting note was that a young carpenter by the name of Mike Butt became a member and went on to found Buttcon- a large international construction company.

Many of the members helped with the construction, especially the interior finishes.

The spring of 1970 brought the official opening of the club and the original Board of Directors were noted on then plaque outside the front door of the club- Joe Horvat, Gary Chatfield, Ted Moritsugu, Bev Cook, John Wachna, Donald Strupat, Marvin Abrams, Roy Jones, Christopher Hart and of course, Doug Allen as founding President.

Three of the original members are still with the club in 2010 and two are still playing. The original three are Doug Harris, Ted Moritsugu and Doug Allen.

The club was very popular. Don Strupat assisted by showing others the game of squash. Before long, Tom Sanlon, Chris Hopson, and Doug Allen were giving squash instruction to member’s children, all boys of course! Chris Hopson went on to become the club champion and Tom Salon looked after club maintenance for many years. Tom became the very first ‘Most Valuable Member’.

In 1971, within a year of the opening, the club had enough enthusiasm and energy throughout the membership to start work on the second court. Grant Construction again entered the picture and the court was completed in 1972. RHRC could now enter a team in the Toronto & District League and started at the lowest category. Chris Hart, Don Strupat, Tom Salon, Chris Hopson and Doug Allen were members of those early teams.

1974 brought a major policy change to the club. Remember, this club was a bastion of male supremacy but this was about to change.

The ladies were beginning to think the men were having way too much fun and slowly but surely, the ladies were introduced into the life of the club. Soon they started to play and the difficulties of sharing the locker room and showers became very apparent, very quickly. Time allocations were often forgotten and resulted in the odd embarrassing situation. However, what happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas!

In 1976 the inevitable happened and because the ladies were doing all the organization of the social events and fund raisers and doing a fantastic job, the issue of membership arose.

A confidential vote was cast, the ballots counted by a committee of men (carefully approved by the wives) and the ladies carried the day.

A moment to recognize some of the outstanding ladies who contributed so much to the success of the club- Nancy Moritsugu, Sylvia Gilchrist- the first female Club President, Marilyn Kelly, Ruth Maclean and Kathleen Crosbie. Also Nancy Ballentyne, a former Canadian champion in both squash and badminton who became the first female club pro, did an incredible job in helping the club grow.

By the late 70’s, family memberships increased dramatically. There were more T&D teams, more kids, more lessons. The club was fortunate to have a great leadership during these years with John Lawlor, Martin Pick, Larry Saunders and Dave Aspinwall- to name just a few.

Plans for 2 new International courts were floated and the enthusiasm grew. With some imaginative financing ideas, the plans grew to reality.

In 1981 the club celebrated the grand opening of the 2 new courts- courts 3 and 4.

Welcome to the Eighties!

The late Eighties and early Nineties not only brought new challenges but also a new set of outstanding leaders, starting with Don Pocock and Carl and Barbara Lytollis.

In 1990-1991, the club felt the impact of the recession and membership dropped to below 90. The first major issue facing the new leaders was a very leaky roof which needed full replacement. Under the leadership of Carl Lytollis and his hard working committee a fund raiser was held. The ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ event was a huge success through the support of most of the membership and their friends.

Another similar event followed and the club was back operating in the black.

1995 saw the first major anniversary celebration of the club- its 25th. A wonderful evening was highlighted by an exhibition match between Sharif Khan and Barbara Cooper.

The international game outstripped the North American game in popularity and by the end of the Nineties, Court 2 was converted to an International court and the fitness facility installed. This was all achieved under the leadership of Don Pocock.

Also in the late Nineties, Don Pocock introduced Trial Memberships which has proved to be a major part of the ongoing success of the club. The Trial Membership program is now under the watchful eye of the club’s Squash Captain, Jeff Ho.

In the 1998/1999 season, Danny Paolucci, a real gentleman, was introduced to the club and generously assumed the position of club pro and asked for nothing in return. He contributed so much to the life of the club-free clinics, Wednesday night round robins, lessons and also his love for the game for which so many were grateful. His contributions off court were also invaluable.

Welcome to the New Millenium. In 2000, court 1, the last remaining North American court had fallen into disuse. Again, under the leadership of Don Pocock, Court 1 was converted to an International court.

The Club continued to evolve and went from strength to strength and during the early 2000’s membership continued to grow.

In 2005, Martyn Homer joined the Board of Directors and in 2006 took on the job of President. Carly Lytollis had been the President for the previous 5 years and had done an outstanding job. Those were big shoes to fill!

There had been much discussion on the issue of the doubles court- a phenomenally fast growing segment of the game- and in 2009, Martyn Homer, with the approval of the Board, established a working committee to investigate the challenges and economic viability of building a doubles court. Thirty nine years after the founding of the club, Doug Allen was still designing and planning improvements to the club.

2010 and the doubles court remained a work in progress as the club continued to evolve in order to keep abreast of the changes happening in the world of squash.

On June 12th, 2010, the club celebrated its 40th anniversary – as testament to the dream and vision of its founder. Joan Brann headed up the anniversary committee and it was a night to remember with many special quests and surprises.

The success of the Richmond Hill Squash Club has been achieved by the many, many motivated men and women who have given so generously of their time and effort by serving on the Board of Directors. Over the years, one of the key factors of the club’s success has been the slow turnover in the members of the Board. This experience and dedication has served the club well, guiding it to steady growth and prosperity.

In addition to the Board, the club has recognized the contributions of the 13 ‘Most Valuable Members’, whose names; starting with Tom Sanlon, are displayed on Court 3.

Today, the Board of Directors is led by Jim Quance (President). Directors include:

Jeff Ho
Peter Puhl
Bruce Hunter
Don Pocock
Joan Brann
Jason Gin
Duncan Peake
Christeen Tang
Robert Dubé