Presenting: The Balmy Beach Club – Legend by the Lake

Ken introduced me to two long-term Balmy Beach Club members and handed me over to his colleagues as he had to go. The famous Jim Mossmann, four-time Canadian Olympic coach, has been a member for an unbelievable 72 years. Naturally he was also inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame for his athletic achievements. Today he says he lives in a condo close by and mainly comes down here to socialize.

Jim Mossmann, four time Olympian and life-time member

Another long-term member, John McCullough, was just inducted as a lifetime member last night. He has been a member since 1943. His friends were joking and referred to him as a walking encyclopedia. John says that today he spends much of his time golfing, lawn-bowling and curling. He has been retired for 23 years, and the Balmy Beach Club has become an important anchor for his social life.

John McCullough, recently inducted as a lifetime member

The friendly face behind the bar is Jamie Reynolds, also a Balmy Beach Club member and the maintenance manager. Jamie is also responsible for ordering the supplies, the drinks and snacks for the bar. The Balmy Beach Club is a licensed establishment and serves quick snacks and pre-made sandwiches. Jamie has been a member since 1964, started off paddling, then played rugby from 1967 to 1987. Today Jamie is a talented lawn bowler. He explains that the natural sequence of sports at the Balmy Beach Club starts with paddling, then moves on to rugby and hockey, and finally ends with lawn bowling in people’s later years. An entire lifetime of sports and social activities is available at the Balmy Beach Club.

Jamie Reynolds

Another true fixture at the Balmy Beach Club is Barb Kelly, who works part-time in the club’s administration since she retired from her long-term job with a paper mill. Barb Kelly is also a life-time member and joined the club in the mid 1970s. She has been on the Board of Directors for the last 12 years and was the first female on the board. Originally the Balmy Beach Club was closed to women as there were no lockers or showers for females, and finally opened its doors to females in the 1970s.

Barb has been paddling since she was a child, and on May 4, 2007 she will be inducted in the Balmy Beach Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete (she is an outstanding lawn bowler) and a major contributor of the club. Barb explained that eight times a year she runs a “Euchre Meat Roll” which is basically a fundraiser for her lawn-bowling team that involves a vacuum-packed piece of meat as a prize giveaway. Barb has participated in many dances and social events at the Balmy Beach Club since she was a young girl.

Barb Kelly, soon to be in the Sports Hall of Fame

Last but not least I got a chance to meet the person who really runs the Balmy Beach Club: Charlene Provan is the General Manager of the club and is in charge of all operational matters which include staffing issues, facility rentals, administration, maintenance, volunteer coordination, security and well as set-ups and tear-downs for special events. Charlene mentioned that insurance costs in particular have risen incredibly over the last few years. Insurance now adds up to about $130.00 per player on the competitive rugby team. Canoeing/kayaking, on the other hand, requires expensive marine insurance. Charlene has worked here for eight years, and since she started insurance costs have actually tripled.

Charlene Provan, the heart and soul of the Balmy Beach Club

Charlene adds that the club is financially self-sufficient and has never asked for any funds from the city, who officially owns the land that the club is built on. She adds that the Balmy Beach Club is an important focal point for the community, a beautiful place to get away from it all, right here in the city. Charlene herself grew up in the Beach, attended local schools such as Williamson Road, Glen Ames and Malvern Collegiate Institute. She has raised her daughters here and for a number of years she worked at “Lido’s in the Beach”, a restaurant formerly owned by Lido Chilelli, founder of the Beaches Jazz Festival.

One of the things that Charlene has instituted at the club is a more inclusive policy. More than 30 years ago, the club was open to men only. After shower and locker facilities were installed for women, the club opened its doors to both genders. Things have changed substantially, and since Charlene arrived on the scene, she has introduced many family-friendly events such as Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts and Halloween events. Charlene has actively been working on broadening the appeal of the Balmy Beach Club and on making it accessible to a wider range of people. She has even added a wireless Internet connection to the club so members can come in and use their laptops from the comfort of their social club.

View of the lake from the patio on a cold January day

Considering all this history and the people behind it, the club is definitely the ‘Legend by the Lake”, and in Charlene’s words it is the “best kept secret in Toronto”.

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