Early Days at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club

July 5, 2018 | lfeesey

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In 1852, eight men founded a boat club in Toronto harbour. A year later, they named it the Toronto Yacht Club. Out of patriotism to the British Crown, the club applied for a Royal Warrant. To their surprise, Queen Victoria designated the Toronto Yacht Club, The Royal Canadian Yacht Club. 

Yacht clubs at that time could be called upon by the Royal Navy to participate in defense operations.  So in 1862, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) started an armed naval company that conducted drills three times a week. 

The club's first home was in a building owned by Sir Casimir Gzowski near the present site of Union Station, but it was not long before the club moved.  In 1853, it settled into a single story structure built atop a scow near the foot of Simcoe St. 

Clubhouse 1858

The scow-house was replaced by the steamer The Provincial in 1858. Ten years later The Provincial escaped its mooring and drifted out with the winter ice-pack. This presented a hazard to harbour navigation, so it was blown up. 

Next, the RCYC built a clubhouse adjacent to the Parliament Buildings on Front Street. But as the harbour industrialized and its traffic became heavier, the club members decided to decamp to the Toronto Islands.  In 1881, a clubhouse designed by Darling & Curry was completed on North Island, the site of the present clubhouse. 

To get the members to the new island location, the club purchased the clipper-bowed steam launch Esperanza and secured landing rights at the foot of York Street, which were held until 1980. 

 The club's passion was racing their sailboats. The RCYC's first regatta was held in 1858 and offered $600 in prizes. The club's first challenge for the America's Cup came in 1876.  The RCYC's Countess of Dufferin was unsuccessful. 

The Lincoln Park Yacht Club of Chicago challenged the RCYC to a series of races to be held in “neutral” waters in the summer of 1896. Sailing races were a popular spectator sport. Toledo, Ohio won the competition to hold the races. The city put up a silver trophy made by Tiffany & Co. along with a cash prize of $1,500. The 57-foot cutter Canada skippered by Aemilius Jarvis  would take on the American yacht, Vencedor, a 63-foot cutter.  As the two yachts sailed toward Toledo, they raced against other yachts to build up public interest for the ultimate races. Under moderate weather, Canada triumphed and the Tiffany cup became Canada's Cup.  Jarvis and his syndicate deeded the Cup to the RCYC “as a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between representatives of yacht clubs of the two nations bordering on the Great Lakes.” The race for Canada's Cup continues to the present day.

Old  damaged cover of the RCYC by laws and Sailing Rules

Digitized book: Royal Canadian Yacht Club By-Laws and Sailing Rules, 1888


 The 1881 clubhouse pictured above burned down in 1904. The cornerstone for the present clubhouse was laid in 1919 by the Prince of Wales. 

Explore more digitized images and publications of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in the Virtual Reference Library.