Awesome ‘Look Back’ on the Richmond Hill Squash Club
History often begins with a dream that transforms into a goal which then becomes reality. To be sure, it does not happen without significant energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and a tremendous desire to succeed.
This, in effect, is the story of the Richmond Hill Racquet Club – known today as the Richmond Hill Squash Club – with the dedication and foresight of its founder, the late Douglas 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 tiny population of just 18,000.
In 1965, Doug considered starting a squash club in Richmond Hill because of being denied an out-of-town membership at one of the leading Toronto clubs. In the fall of 65, Doug held a meeting in his home after placing an ad in the local Liberal newspaper. There was a good turnout of about 16 people but most of them were women. Because the concept was to be 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 briefed on the concept of a ‘member owned’ 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 $5,000 and miraculously, the idea of the RHSC was born.
1967 saw the start for the search for a site for a new club. Earl Cameron- the senior newscaster at CBC and Bud Cable, a local entrepreneur, together owned a small slice of land on Ohio Road in the north part of Richmond Hill, which was for sale at $13,000. The interested sellers reduced their price to $11,000 after they were offered a lifetime membership in the club. How great was that — a lifetime membership to a club that didn’t exist for a sport they had never heard of!
Plans for the club were developed in earnest and surprisingly, some 50 years later, after seven alterations and expansions, 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 $32, 000. Sounded fantastic but it was more than the club could handle. The work had to be scaled back to 1 court; the cost was reduced to $25,000. In the meantime, memberships 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 with financial arrangements by producing some amazing “blue sky” income projections. Ted, and others’ collective effort worked!
In the fall of 1969, Mayor of Richmond Hill, Tom Broadhurst and the Mayor elect, Bill Lazenby participated in the sod turning ceremony which was attended by many 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 members helped with construction, especially interior finishes and beautification.
Spring of 1970 brought the official opening of the club. The original Board of Directors were noted on the 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, founding President.
In 2020, one of the original members still comes to the club to take advantage of the fitness centre; Ted Moritsugu (usually accompanied by Ted’s wife, Nancy, a current member and loyal Monday night House League competitor).
The club was extremely 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 Sanlon looked after club maintenance for many years. Tom became the club’s very first MVM (‘Most Valuable Member’.)
In 1971, within a year of the grand opening, the club garnered sufficient enthusiasm and energy throughout the membership to start work on the second court. Grant Construction again entered the picture and court two was completed in 1972. RHRC could now enter a team in the Toronto & District League (T&D) starting 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 but harmless situation. ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’, some were heard to say at the time!
In 1976 the inevitable happened; because the ladies were doing all the organization of social events and fundraisers and doing a fantastic job at it, the issue of updating membership openness was front and centre.
A confidential vote was cast, the ballots counted by a committee of men (carefully approved by the wives). Result: ladies carried the day.
A moment to recognize some of the outstanding ladies who contributed so much to the success of the club in the early days- Nancy Moritsugu, Sylvia Gilchrist- the first female Club President, Marilyn Kelly, and Ruth MacLean and Kathleen Crosbie. Also, Nancy Ballentyne, a former Canadian champion in both squash and badminton who became the first female club pro, all did an incredible job in helping grow the club.
By the late 70’s, family memberships increased dramatically. There were more T&D teams, more kids and more lessons. Calibre of play increased dramatically. The club was fortunate to have great leadership during these years with John Lawlor, Martin Pick, Larry Saunders and Dave Aspinwall- to name just a few.
Next, plans for 2 new International courts were floated and enthusiasm grew. With some imaginative financing ideas, plans grew into reality.
1980s & 1990's
In 1981 the club celebrated the grand opening of the 2 new international courts- three and four.
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 Carl Lytollis’ tutelage and a hard-working committee, a fund raiser was held. The ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ event was a huge success through support from the membership and their friends.
Another similar event followed during those years; thankfully, the club was back operating in the black.
1995 saw the first major anniversary celebration of the club- the 25th. A wonderful evening was highlighted by an exhibition match between Sharif Khan and Barbara Cooper.
The international game was now outstripping the North American game in popularity, By the end of the nineties, Court 2 was converted to an International court and a fitness facility built. This was achieved under the direction of the club's leadership duel Doug Allen and Don Pocock with assistance from others.
And for the first time, in the late nineties, Don introduced the very popular RHSC 'Trial Membership' program which still stands today as a major contributor in driving the club's annual membership roster. What this proved then and now, is once people try squash, they love it. We'll, not everyone, BUT MOST.
In the 1998/1999 season, Danny Paolucci, a real gentleman, was introduced to the club and generously assumed the position of club pro, asking for nothing in return. Danny has contributed so much to the life of the club; free clinics, weekly round robins, lessons, equipment sales & repair, and his love for the game for which so many are grateful. His contributions off court are notable as well.
Welcome to the New Millennium. 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. 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 for Martyn!
At the board level, there was much discussion on the issue of adding a doubles court- a phenomenally fast-growing segment of the game. 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 an integral part to making the club the best ever in north Toronto. This time, designing and planning a doubles court expansion.
On June 12th, 2010, the club celebrated its 40th anniversary – a testament to the dream & vision of our founder. Joan Brann headed the anniversary committee, assigned to throw a ‘party to remember.’ Themed on the Frankie Valli smash hit, ‘Oh what a night’, the 40th was a wonderful evening showcasing exhibition squash, interesting guest speakers, a welcoming drum core brigade, entertainment and more. Members of the board of directors at the time helping with celebration planning were Martyn Homer (president), Jim Quance, Carl Lytollis, Don Pocock, Kathleen Crosbie, Joan Brann, Peter Puhl, Jeff Ho and Carrol Trunk. To members and their guests at the celebration, our message was simply — ‘welcome to the 40th and here’s to the next generation of leaders who will carry the torch and continue to live the dream that started in 1970.’
In January 2015, the doubles court became a reality. Again, a wonderful ‘grand opening’ celebration with Mayor Dave Barrow along with other dignitaries, marked the beginning of doubles play in Richmond Hill. This addition has served us well as the game has not only ‘quickly’ caught on among older members, but also by younger members. Having a doubles option at the RHSC has attracted even more new members to our club which is good for everyone.
Getting doubles squash at the RHSC can be traced back to many people helping, however, at the front of that line were once again, the Leadership Duel of Doug Allen and Don Pocock driving the process. Doug, fully engaged in design and engineering, and overall construction supervision. Don, successfully acquiring two Ontario government Trillium grants, and arranging for added mortgage funds. if you've worked with government to get something, you know, its not easy.
Other senior members complemented this people power lineup. Martyn Homer and Peter Puhl (serving sequentially as president during this exciting growth period) both worked tirelessly to get doubles done. Wow; they succeeded in every way to overcome endless obstacles and challenges along the way. We thank this amazing team for their commitment and the joy and fellowship doubles has brought to the Richmond Hill Squash Club. Its often heard around the club these days ''double your pleasure, double your fun.'' So we did.
Martyn Homer moved away from Richmond Hill in 2011. What a great job Martyn performed. Peter Puhl (2012 to 2015), James Quance (2015 TO 2018) and Robert Dubé (2018 to 2020) each took their turn in the president’s role, exercising their commitment to club leadership happily leading a savvy, hands-on group of board directors volunteers.
The success of the Richmond Hill Squash Club has been achieved by many motivated men and women who have given so generously of their time, diverse skill-sets and effort serving as volunteers behind the scenes or on the Board of Directors. Over the years, one of the key factors of the club’s vitality and success has been the slow turnover on the Board. This experience and dedication has served the club well in member services and guidance for steady, well-informed growth and prosperity.
The club has recognized the contributions of 18 ‘Most Valuable Members’. The names, starting with Tom Sanlon from the early days, are displayed on the glass behind Court 3. The list is impressive; 2022 has just added 3 more names - Rick Wells, Mustafa Salemwala and Jim Quance. Thanks to all these men and women who have helped make the RHSC great.
In 2019, Mustafa and Farhat Salemwalla joined our ranks at the Richmond Hill Squash Club. Mustafa joined the Board of Directors soon after, and in October 2020, took over presidency duties. Into the 20's, Mustafa will continue to lead today’s Board of Directors:
- Don Pocock
- Jim Quance
- Tony Pitoscia
- Robert Dubé
- Kathleen Crosbie
- Marco Wong
- Luciano DiSerio
- Brenda Garel
- Victor Lobo
- David Gee
- Thang Le
As the RHSC continues to thrive and grow, we look forward to leaning into any and all opportunities and challenges that come our way in 2022 and beyond. With continued volunteer support, we are committed to growing the great game of squash and ‘the joy it brings’ in Richmond Hill.