Presenting: The Balmy Beach Club – Legend by the Lake

No neighbourhood portrait of Toronto’s Beach community could ever be complete without one of the true institutions in the area: the Balmy Beach Club, a private social and athletics club founded in 1905, has been a real anchor of the local sports and recreational scene, and continues to thrive today as a favourite gathering place for many of its members. During a recent interview with Glenn Cochrane, he took me briefly into the Balmy Beach Club and stated that “this is the best patio on Toronto’s waterfront – bar none”. When I headed out on the patio and saw the sweeping 180 degree panorama of Lake Ontario with a view towards Toronto’s skyline, I simply had to agree. Combined with a beautiful setting inside a historic neighbourhood, surrounded by gorgeous mature trees, one would be hard-pressed to find a more perfect urban oasis in Toronto than the Balmy Beach Club.


Logol at the Balmy Beach Club, part of the mural painted by Ralph Noble

To find out more about this revered institution I set up an interview with Ken Bingham, long-time member of the Balmy Beach Club, and the official historian of this institution. The Balmy Beach Club, a non-profit organization, is a social and athletic club that came into existence in 1905. It has about 1400 members in two membership categories: the social membership provides access to upstairs facilities, including the bar, lounge, patio and banquet hall. Social members are able to attend a wide variety of functions, for example the Superbowl Party, a Glen Miller Dance, Rock Star Karaoke, a Martini Night and many more. Members in the social category also participate at no extra cost in lawn bowling, volleyball and most social functions run through the club. In addition, members are eligible to rent the banquet facility for private functions such as birthday parties, anniversaries and weddings. Many local community organizations also use the club to hold special events or fundraisers.


Opening day, 1905

The fitness membership includes the privileges of the social membership and additionally provides access to the fitness room, the squash courts, sauna and change rooms on the lower level of the building. With this level of membership it is feasible to join the canoe, hockey or rugby sections of the club. Sports such as curling, tennis, football and lawnbowling are offered as well through the club.


The fitness facilities downstairs

For more than a century the Balmy Beach Club has been noted for its athletic teams which started out with canoeing and lawn bowling, and were later expanded to add other activities such as curling, hockey, squash and volleyball. Ken explained that the land for the Club was donated by Sir Adam Wilson, an Ontario Chief Justice in the second half of the 19th century. The land for the Balmy Beach Park was incorporated in 1903.

The first club house, a beautiful two level structure with large wooden verandas, opened in 1905, but it unfortunately burnt to the ground in 1936. Another club house was built, but again fire struck in 1963. The current club house dates back to 1965.


Looking east on the Boardwalk from the Balmy Beach Club

While Ken was grabbing me some extra papers with historic information I took the opportunity to talk with Chris Buckley, the current president of the club, now serving his second term. Chris works full time in sales, and in his spare time he oversees the club and chairs the board. He informed me that this is a volunteer position, and that a Board of Directors is responsible for the main athletic sections (canoeing, lawn bowling, volleyball, hockey, rugby and squash). Chris further explained that membership is actually rather reasonable for a private club: the social membership is $260 a year while the fitness or athletic membership costs $420 per year. An initiation fee of $300 applies to first-time members, but that fee is sometimes waived during special promotions.


Historical pictures galore

Chris Buckley indicated that he is very interested in increasing the membership of the Club since a larger roster of members also helps to defray the costs of running the club. Sometimes the Balmy Beach Club holds open houses and invites the community at large to get to know the club, its facilities and recreational opportunities. He indicated that the club is very open and welcoming, and has members from as far away as Brampton and Mississauga, but there are also a number of international members who reside in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Australia and New Zealand.

The sports teams themselves run various fundraising events to cover the costs of insurance and other necessary funds for their sports activities. A very popular fundraising event is a volleyball tournament, and participants often show up outfitted in funny costumes. One time a team was dressed up as gladiators, another time they were pretending to be waiters with bowties from the “Goof” , the affectionately nicknamed historic Garden Foods Chinese restaurant just up the street.


Chris Buckley and Ken Bingham

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