History of Squash Racquets in British Columbia since 1972
George L. Morfitt
Vancouver and the Lower Mainland Area
The Very Early Days
Squash was first played in Vancouver in the 1890’s. One of the city’s pioneer players, Bimbo Sweeney, learned to play squash in 1899 at 10 years of age, on a court built to English standards by the Honorable Cecil Edwards (Lord Kensington) at his residence located on the corner of Cardero and Beach Avenue. There was a gallery to the court, and as a small boy Mr. Sweeney used to chin himself on the railing while watching the squash being played.
The Edwards property was purchased in 1910 by Major John Fordham. Bimbo Sweeney played in the Fordham Court many times during the 1920’s and he used to tell the story of being awakened one night from his sleep by the vigorous ringing of the telephone. Reluctantly, he stumbled out of bed and, answering the phone, was asked by the caller if he would like a game of squash. Asking who it was who was trying to play jokes at that time of night, he was told it was the HRH Prince of Wales. Major John Fordham, the Prince of Wales’ host, confirmed to Bimbo that it was indeed the Prince and that he did want a game, so Bimbo quickly dressed and had his game of squash with the Prince at the Fordham Court. This event occurred during the visit of the Prince to Vancouver in 1927.
The eminent courtroom lawyer, Edward P. Davis, KC, came to Vancouver in the 1880’s and took up residence at the corner of Thurlow and Seaton (now Hastings) Streets. He constructed a squash court down on what is now the CPR track level below Hastings Street. While it is not known during which years the court was in use, it is believed that the court ceased to exist sometime prior to the Second World War.
With the advent of the Second World War and the subsequent depression, extra-curricular activities such as squash playing largely disappeared from notice. The only squash court in use in Vancouver by 1925 was the Fordham Court.
1926 to 1945
In the early 1920’s Ernest Rogers, one of the Rogers Sugar family, played squash in John Fordham’s court. Also, through sailing excursions to Seattle, he had made contact with several Seattle squash players and had played on more than one occasion on courts located in that city. Squash in Seattle was played according to North American rules and, while the early Vancouver courts were English-sized, Mr. Rogers decided to build his court to North American standards in order to, in part, facilitate play between Vancouver and Seattle players.
The Rogers Court, built in 1927 at 1789 Matthews Avenue was, at that time, the only court in Vancouver built to North American specifications, as the only other court then existing was the English-sized Fordham Court. Upon the completion of the Rogers Court in September of 1927, the various members of the Vancouver squash fraternity – including Colonel J.P. Fell, Major John Fordham, A.E. John Jukes and Bimbo Sweeney – were taught to play by North American rules. Keith Verley, a leading Vancouver racquets professional for many years, also played at the Rogers Court and would give pointers to the players. The court was also used for occasional tournament play.
The Rogers Court still stands today but is not actively used. The property on which the court is located was sold some years ago by the Rogers family and is today owned by Mr. Charles Wills.
Also playing on the Rogers Court during the 1920’s were General A.D. McRae and his family, including LeFevre Baker and Dick Baker. General McRae built his own squash court in 1929 or 1930 near to what is now the University Women’s Club premises at 16th Avenue and Granville Street. The McRae Court, built to North American standards, was torn down several years ago to make way for a housing development.
Two North American-sized squash courts were built at the Jericho Golf & Country Club in 1928 or 1929. The Jericho Club owned 163 acres of land near the University District of Vancouver on which was located the city’s finest golf course. Squash was played there by such players as Jack Larsen, Rock Robertson, Jim McMullen and Doug Macrae until the advent of the Second World War when the club property was purchased by the Department of National Defense. The courts were detached from the main club building and had small galleries; a small, unheated locker room was attached to the courts in which the required showering and beer consumption took place. Badminton courts were located in the same building and all of these facilities were converted in 1941 to use in the war effort.
In 1929 Mr. Ghent Davis, son of E.P. Davis, decided to construct a North American-sized court at “Kanakia”, his home located on Marine Drive in the University District. The mansion remained the Davis home until 1940 when Mrs. E.V. Schwitzer became the new chatelaine and renamed the house “Langara”. The house changed hands again in 1951, when it was purchased by the late Senator Stanley McKeen who renamed the house “Yorkeen”. In 1966 the property was purchased by Dr. Cecil H. Green who, in 1967, donated it to the University of British Columbia. In the same year, the University renamed the premises “Cecil Green Park” and installed in it the offices of the U.B.C. Alumni Association. The squash court is today actively used by the faculty and students from the University.
At about the same time as Ghent Davis was building his court on the Point Grey Peninsula, Captain Massey Goolden was constructing an English-sized court at his home, “The Knole”, at 57th Avenue and Marine Drive in South Vancouver. Captain Goolden, who at that time was recently retired from the Navy, had married the widow of Mr. Blythe Rogers, brother of Ernest Rogers. He had played squash at various locations around the world while with the navy and had a strong interest in the game. Through his impetus the first city squash league was formed. For many years the Goolden Court was in constant use, both for friendly games and for tournament play. The court is still in existence today and is owned by Mr. Fred Wyder.
Thus, by the end of 1930 there were 6 squash courts in existence in Vancouver: those owned by Messrs. Rogers, McRae and Davis and the Jericho Golf & Country Club (all American-sized courts) and Captain Goolden (English-sized). The Fordham Court was not in use by this time. As of 1972, all of these courts continue to exist except for the McRae Court.
The Pacific Athletic Club was constructed by Jack Pattison in 1932 or 1933. The club was located at 531 Howe Street between Pender and Dunsmuir Streets, and on the top floor were two squash courts built to North American standards. To watch squash at the Pacific Athletic Club, one had to climb up a ladder and go along a walkway in order to sit on plank seats behind the courts. It is said that Ross Hanbury and Johnny Calland often played at the club clad in the very minimum of attire, much to the surprise of the occasional female spectator. Squash was played at the club until the end of 1940 at which time it was no longer a paying proposition, as most of the squash players were fighting in the Second World War. Before the War ended, the wall between the two courts was taken out and the courts converted into a gymnasium. During the existence of the Pacific Athletic Club, many of the active squash players belonged to both that club and the Jericho Golf & Country Club.
Squash of sorts was also played in the mid-1930’s at the Vancouver Athletic Club gymnasium where Bob Brown had constructed a double-purpose court for squash and handball.
George Herman built in 1938 or 1939 an English-sized squash court in West Vancouver. The property was sold by the Herman family in 1952 and is now the site of the Spuraway Apartment complex. The court is still in use today by the apartment residents.
During the 1930’s there was a league consisting of teams based at each of the local courts and weekly matches were played. Outside competition consisted mainly of matches against teams from the Seattle Tennis Club and the Washington Athletic Club (Seattle), with occasional matches against the Multnomah Athletic Club (Portland). Home and home events against each of the Seattle clubs were held regularly each winter and, when held in Vancouver, the matches were played at either the Jericho Golf & Country Club or the Pacific Athletic Club. The cup played for was the Sir Lancelot Trophy. A feature of these matches was that when played in Vancouver the English ball was used while, in Seattle, the hosts would naturally produce the American ball. Needless to say, in either event the visitors were at somewhat of a disadvantage. After the Second World War, the American ball was used for all matches.
1946 to Date
Squash players returning to Vancouver after the Second World War were hard-pressed to find courts available for play. With the demise of the Pacific Athletic Club courts during the War, the only courts in existence were those owned privately and the two held by the Department of Defence. Several players – including Jack Larsen, Harry Bell-Irving, John Nicolls, Ed Kemble, Reg Wilson, Jack Duncan and Jack Crane – spearheaded by Eric Beardmore and calling themselves the Ex-Officers’ Squash Club, convinced the Commanding Officer to allow them use of the old Jericho courts upon their undertaking to join the Officers’ Mess for the $5.00 annual fee. The squash courts could not be booked but were used on a first-come, first-served basis. The squash building had a lock on the door and the players had to know where the key was kept in order to gain entry.
Late in 1951 the squash players were told that the squash courts would be required for military purposes and that they could no longer be used for squash. As they were the only accessible squash courts in the city, the squash players proceeded to have extra keys made and kept on playing. The Department of National Defence then changed the keys and barred the door to the building. The squash players pried open a window to the locker room and continued to play for almost another year. Then, as Harry Bell-Irving recalls, one day he went to the courts to play a match and found the front wall of one of the courts jackhammered for the installation of a window. The courts were very soon thereafter turned into D.N.D. offices. The facility remains in existence today as a storage area.
For the next year squash in Vancouver survived at the Rogers Court. No other court was in active use in the city and Mrs. Rogers, who had been widowed some years before, was very generous in making her squash court available for play by the dozen or so persons who were actively playing squash at that time. The Rogers Trophy was later established by several of such players in appreciation of the lasting contribution to squash made by both Irene and Ernest Rogers.
One day in 1952 Harry Bell-Irving and Ed Gudewill were in the locker room of the Capilano Golf and Country Club after playing a round of golf and they overheard well-known lawyer John Jukes speaking with Colonel Bill Swan. Jukes was saying, “Bill, we’d better do something with Badminton Building Ltd. Perhaps we should take it over for use by Shaughnessy United Church.” Thereupon Ed Gudewill went over to Jukes and said, “For God’s sake, don’t do that. Give it to our group for squash.” After some persuasive discussion during the following few days, Jukes and Swan both agreed to support the squash group in its bid to build squash courts in the building owned by Badminton Building Ltd.
For several years a badminton group called the Hill Badminton Club had been operating, at nominal cost and with the permission of the landlord, Badminton Building Ltd., the 4-court badminton building located at 4142 Oak Street. The group had endeavoured to purchase the building on several occasions but for various reasons had failed to do so. Now the squash group wished to gain control of the building and, indeed, after several months of gathering shareholder support and despite all efforts of the badminton group to thwart the move, the squash players elected a majority of 4 representatives to the 7-man Board of Directors of the landlord company – Harry Bell-Irving, Ed Gudewill, John Nicolls and John Spencer. With the aid of Jim Forsythe, the group obtained bank financing secured by members’ notes and two new squash courts were opened for play at the Oak Street facility, then renamed the Vancouver Racquets Club, in February of 1954. The Club established to lease the building was incorporated December 16, 1953 as the Vancouver Racquets Club under the BC Societies Act, and elected as its first officers and directors were Jim Forsythe (President), Harry Bell-Irving (Vice-President), Joan Nichols (Secretary-Treasurer), Bill Walker, John Nicolls, Dave McTaggart and Jack Larsen.
It had been some 15 years since squash courts had been made available on a membership basis and at modest cost to the residents of Vancouver, and the courts proved to be very popular. Squash activity at the Vancouver Racquets Club increased rapidly over the next few years as did interest in the game throughout the city, and soon many new courts were being constructed at various other locations in and around the lower mainland area. This expansion of squash activity has continued to the present and the following is a chronological listing of squash courts built in the lower mainland since the establishment of the Vancouver Racquets Club in 1954:
1958 YMCA of Greater Vancouver 1 singles
1961 Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club 2 singles
1962 Jewish Community Centre 1 singles
Jericho Tennis Club 2 singles
1964 YMCA of New Westminster 1 singles
1967 Men’s Athletic & Recreation Centre 2 singles 1 doubles
1968 Evergreen Squash Club 2 singles
1969 Columbia Centre Squash Club 2 singles
University of British Columbia 4 singles
1970 Vancouver Racquets Club (new location) 2 singles 1 doubles
Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club 1 singles 1 doubles
The Arbutus Club 2 singles
1972 Hollyburn Country Club 2 singles
YMCA of New Westminster 1 singles
The addition of squash courts in the early 1960’s to the existing sports facilities at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club and the Jericho Tennis Club provided a considerable increase in exposure of the game to Vancouver residents. It triggered a demand for more playing facilities, a demand which has been only partially satisfied by the continuing construction of courts during the last 10 years.
The building of courts in 1967 at M.L.A. Herb Capozzi’s Men’s Athletic & Recreation Centre (MARC) gave Vancouver its first downtown squash courts and its first doubles court. The securing of this doubles court enabled the MARC and the Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club, under the auspices of the BC Squash Racquets Association, to co-host in 1969 the Canada – United States Lapham Cup and Grant Trophy Matches. This was the first time that such matches had been held in Western Canada.
In 1968 a small group of squash enthusiasts led by Dr. Mitch Hiddleston opened the Evergreen Squash Club in North Vancouver, which was the first squash club to be established on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet. This highly successful club was brought into being through the unswerving perseverance of its founding members in the face of many initial adversities and it was the first squash facility in the Vancouver area to be located on municipal property.
In April of 1969,Toronto’s Dick Baxter opened 2 new singles courts in his Board of Trade Tower located on Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver. Baxter had previously included courts in two of his hotels in Ontario. A local group of players collectively calling themselves the Columbia Centre Squash Club operate this facility. Later in the same year, 4 singles courts were completed in the Winter Sports Centre at the University of British Columbia. These courts brought the game to many young people of the province who had never previously heard of squash racquets and as a result of the instant, enthusiastic acceptance of the game by the students, there are now many more active players than ever before under 25 years of age.
On January 1, 1970 the new Vancouver Racquets Club opened its doors at its new location at 33rd Avenue and Ontario Street in central Vancouver. After many months of negotiation, the Club had sold its Oak Street property to Canada Safeway Limited and built new quarters on land leased from the Vancouver Parks Board situated adjacent to Little Mountain Park and Capilano Stadium. The Club provides excellent playing facilities at low cost to its members and continues to be the spawning ground of young squash champions. Also in 1970, the two largest sports clubs in the city both completed building programs which included new squash courts. With the addition of its new courts, the Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club became the only membership club in Vancouver to have more than 2 courts. In 1971 the Club hosted the Canadian Squash Racquets Championships, this being the first time that the National Championships had been held outside of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
And today the game continues to expand and gain in popularity in the Lower Mainland area. In 1972, courts are scheduled for completion at the Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver and at the YMCA of New Westminster, and all the established squash clubs are bustling with activity. There is little doubt but that interest in squash will continue to increase during coming years at an accelerated rate resulting in many more playing facilities being constructed in the area.
Vancouver Island, Victoria and Vicinity
Although the first squash courts constructed on Vancouver Island were located at Shawnigan Lake rather than Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia is today the center of squash-playing activity on the Island. The first squash played in Victoria was in Esquimalt at HMCS Naden (Pacific Command, RCN). One court was built there in late 1929 under the sponsorship of the Officers’ Mess and the small building which housed the court still exists today. The court was originally built to English standards but was later altered to North American specifications. In 1951, three North American-sized courts were constructed as part of a new gymnasium complex and they currently receive very active use from those men stationed at the Canadian Forces Base.
Two courts were built in the mid-1920 at Brentwood School, located north of Victoria at Mill Bay. The courts were damaged by a falling tree in 1933 but were subsequently repaired and remained in use by the school until razed by fire shortly after the Second World War.
The first squash courts to be established in downtown Victoria were those constructed in 1939 at the Sussex Hotel, located at the corner of Broughton and Douglas Streets. The courts were opened in August of 1939 and the Sussex Squash Club was formed shortly thereafter. Among the founder members were many distinguished Victorians, including the late W.H. (Bill) Dunbar, who owned the hotel and who was responsible for the planning and construction of the squash courts, Judge Jack Ruttan, Dr. R.A. (Bobby) Hunter, Dr. Norman Cook, Mr. Pat Birley (architect, and later President of the Victoria Lawn Tennis Club), Mr. Reg Wenman (from University School and member of a most eminent English cricketing family), Mr. Marsh Gordon, QC, Dr. Ronald Scott-Moncrieff, Dr. E.H. Elkington, Mr. A.W.E. Pitkethley (later President of the Sussex Squash Club and of the new Racquet Club of Victoria), and Commodore J.C.I. Edwards.
The Sussex Squash Club closed during the Second World War and was revived in 1945 by a few squash enthusiasts with the financial assistance of Frank Donegani, a Victoria lawyer. The Club thrived and provided the focus for squash in the area until in 1963 the club members, with a view to building new court facilities, amalgamated with the Victoria Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club to form a new club called The Racquet Club of Victoria. In 1965 the tennis club sold the last of its property at the corner of Foul Bay Road and Fort Street and in June of 1967 its members, together with the members of the squash club, opened a new sports complex on 8 1/2 acres located where Mackenzie Avenue intersects with Gordon Head Road near the University of Victoria. The new Racquet Club of Victoria has 3 active singles squash courts with provision for the construction of additional courts in the future.
A totally new group of squash players has kept open the old Sussex Hotel courts. The group is thriving and has established a successful new Sussex Squash Club to carry on squash-playing activity at the downtown hotel location.
It is interesting to mention that Ted Clarke of Seattle, for many years the leading squash player on the Pacific Coast and a good friend of the players in British Columbia, helped open in 1939 the Sussex Hotel courts and at that time won the inaugural tournament. Twenty-three years later, in 1962, the old Sussex Squash Club held its last tournament prior to amalgamation with the Victoria Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club and Ted Clarke closed what he had opened by again playing in the men’s singles event and reaching the finals before losing.
A private squash court was constructed just prior to the Second World War by the late Colonel A.A. Sharland, an uncle of Dr. Kemble Greenwood who for many years has himself been an active squash player in Victoria and is a Past President of the Pacific Coast Squash Racquets Association. The Sharland Court was North American-sized and located at Queenswood House, Arbutus Road, Victoria. Although Queenswood House burned down several years ago and the property now houses a school of studies operated by a religious convent, the original squash court still stands and is used chiefly by the faculty members of the University of Victoria.
Two squash courts were established in 1958 at the Royal Roads Military Academy near Victoria as part of a new gymnasium and swimming complex. All of the cadets play squash as part of their training program and receive instruction from several competent players who are on the staff of the College. Many top-flight players have played their squash in Victoria over the last 40 years and several have been provincial or Pacific Coast champions. In 1954, the late Lt. Brian Bell-Irving of the Canadian Navy won the BC Provincial Championships while he was stationed at HMCS Naden and a member of the Sussex Squash Club. It is interesting to note that Lt. Bell-Irving is likely the only player to have ever been champion of the Atlantic and Pacific regions of Canada at the same time as he had won the Maritime Championships in late 1953 just prior to his transfer to Victoria. The other Victorians who have to date been crowned BC Champion are Dr. Kemble Greenwood (1959) and his youngest son Michael (1968). Michael, who won his title while still of junior age, went on to win his “blue” for squash at Cambridge University in England. Pacific Coast “A” champions from Victoria have, in recent years, been: Dr. Kemble Greenwood (Veterans Singles, 1962), Nora Fenswick (Ladies Singles, 1968) and Phil Green (Junior Men’s Singles, 1971).
Shawnigan Lake and Elsewhere
Twenty-five miles north of Victoria on the shores of Shawnigan Lake is the independent boys’ school, Shawnigan Lake School. The school was established in 1916 as Lonsdale School and its founder and then Headmaster C.W. Lonsdale had 2 squash courts erected at the school some 10 years later. The courts, which are still in existence, were built to neither English nor North American standards and story has it that Mr. Lonsdale decided to build the courts while crossing the Atlantic Ocean on one of the “Queens”. He measured the ship”s court and built the courts at the school to the same specifications which, as it turns out, were neither English nor North American specifications.
Two new courts were built at the school in 1966 at which time the Headmaster was E.R. (Ned) Larsen who himself had won his “blue” for squash while at Oxford University in England. The courts, located in a new gymnasium building, were formally dedicated upon their opening to the memory of the late J.H.R. (Jack) Larsen, a graduate of the school and brother to Ned Larsen, and a 3-time provincial champion. Squash has for years been a vital part of the athletic curriculum at Shawnigan Lake School and many fine squash players have been developed through the school program. Three former students who have gone on to become BC champions are Jack Larsen, Michael Greenwood and Robin Wade.
Just prior to 1930 a private squash court built to English standards was constructed by Peter Huntington at his residence located on Cowichan Bay. Mr. Huntington had come to the Cowichan District from England in 1914 and had married Beth Roberts, sister of H.A. Roberts the well-known Vancouver real estate broker. The squash court was housed in a building separate from the Huntington house, and in appearance resembled the court built in Vancouver by Ghent Davis. Huntington returned to England in 1939 and his property at Cowichan Bay was subsequently sold. His large home in recent years was operated as a lodge until it burned down in approximately 1965. The squash court, being in a detached building, was not harmed in the fire and it remains in use today, owned by the Williams family.
During the Second World War, a chapel at the RAF Operational Training Unit at Pat Bay was used as a squash court. The Pat Bay Unit was a final preparation stage for armed forces personnel going overseas and Ed Kemble, a squadron leader during the war, recalls the Unit being granted an appropriation of funds in order to build a much-needed chapel. Upon inspection of the completed chapel, it was found to have the exact dimensions of an English squash court and in fact the facility was used for both “pray and play”.
In the city of Duncan a number of players have, during the last 2 years, played a form of squash on 2 courts located in a local warehouse building. The courts are not of regulation size but this fact has not restricted the players’ enjoyment of their squash games.
Other Centres in British Columbia
In that a large majority of British Columbians are resident either in the Lower Mainland area or on Vancouver Island, it is not surprising that most squash-playing facilities in the province are located in those regions. However, courts have recently been constructed in the cities of Chilliwack in the lower Fraser Valley, Prince Rupert on the upper west coast, and Trail in the central interior, and additional courts are currently in the planning stages for several other population centres.
The Chilliwack court is located in the local Community Centre. The Prince Rupert court was built in 1971 in their new recreation complex and replaced the court which had previously existed in the Civic Centre that had burned down several years before. The Trail court, located in the Cominco Arena, was opened in September, 1971 and is operated by the Trail Squash Club.
At Roberts Creek, just north of Vancouver, is a private court that was recently completed, with the technical assistance of Sandy Robertson, by Mr. J. Lovatt Davies, a well-known Vancouver architect.
The Outstanding Players
During the 1930’s, when squash in British Columbia was beginning to attract a number of dedicated advocates, there were several players who were keen competitors and who were of comparable abilities. These players included such well-known Vancouver names as Doug Macrae, Dr. Jack Wright, Jack Larsen, Jim McDougall, Massey Goolden and Jim McMullen. There were two major annual competitions in which they competed – the Vancouver City Championships (Cross Trophy) and the Provincial Championships (Jukes- Goolden Challenge Cup) – and, while the titles changed hands quite frequently, it is apparent from recorded results that Jim McMullen was the most consistent tournament champion of the day.
McMullen was 4-time Provincial Champion during the 5 years 1935 to 1939. Dr. Jack Wright, the tennis great who was later voted Canada’s outstanding tennis player of the first half century, was also a fine squash player as evidenced by the fact that he won the provincial title in 1934 and 1936. Left-handed Doug Macrae, now a well-known Vancouver lawyer, won the Vancouver City Championships from McMullen in 1938 and 1939 while Jim McDougall, who was ambidextrous and played equally well with racquet in right or left hand, was champion of the Jericho Golf & Country Club.
In those years the major tournaments in British Columbia were played with the English ball according to English rules. Because of the equal abilities of the players, the matches would often become very protracted and Jack Duncan, an active player at that time, well remembers an exhausting marathon match played in 1936 between McMullen and Wright which lasted over 2 1/2 hours before McMullen finally won. Keith Verley, who was racquets professional at the Jericho Golf & Country Club, recalls playing two finals for the Winnipeg Championships in 1910 and 1911 that both lasted well over 2 hours. Such matches must have been good tonic as Mr. Verley is still very active today at 90 years of age.
After the Second World War, regular tournament play was not resumed until 1950 when the Provincial Championships was won by Jack Larsen. Larsen won the Championships again in 1951 and 1953 and only he and Harry Bell-Irving (1956-7) were able to win the Provincial title more than once during the 1950’s. During this period the number of squash players increased significantly and there was a marked improvement in the general calibre of play. Women also began to take up the game, and in 1955 a Ladies Singles event was held for the first time at the BC Championships.
Up to 1959, B.C. squash players had been singularly unsuccessful in breaking the domination by United States players – in particular Ted Clarke, Bob Colwell, Gene Hoover and Tom Owens of Seattle – of the tournaments along the Pacific Coast sanctioned by the Pacific Coast Squash Racquets Association. However, in 1960 the U.S. domination was dented with Bob Wade winning the Pacific Coast Veterans Singles title, and Sandy Robertson and Jim Macken becoming the first BC players to reach the finals of the open singles events in major Pacific Coast tournaments. The flow of tournament titles to Canada steadily increased in the following years, and since 1965 a significant number of major championships have been won by squash players from British Columbia.
In 1962, Dr. Kemble Greenwood of Victoria became the Pacific Coast Veterans Champion and in 1964 the same title was, for the second time, held by Bob Wade. In 1965, Sandy Robertson defeated clubmate Bruce Jaffary to become the first BC player to ever win the Pacific Coast Singles Championship. In the following year, Dave Foster succeeded Robertson by taking the Championship with a 3-1 victory over Ed Harding of San Francisco. Foster’s achievement was particularly noteworthy in that in the semi-finals he defeated Harry Conlon, a former U.S. National Champion. In 1968, George Morfitt edged Steve Gurney of San Francisco 3-2 to become the third Pacific Coast Champion from British Columbia.
Also in 1968, Bob Wade brought international recognition to himself and to Vancouver by winning, at the young age of 56, the United States Senior Veterans Singles Championship. In the finals of the Championships, held at Harvard university, he upset highly ranked Jack Bowling of Buffalo, New York, 3-2 after trailing 2-0 in the match.
Over the last several years, BC players have tended to dominate the Veterans and Ladies Singles events in the Pacific Coast squash Championships. The Veterans Singles title was captured in successive years by Dr. Mitch Hiddleston (1968), Sandy Robertson (1969), David Foster (1970) and Jim Macken (1971). Victory was gained in the Ladies Singles firstly by Wanetta Brown in 1966 and Nora Fenswick of Victoria in 1968, and then was held for three successive years by Jane Dixon (1969-1971). The Junior Men’s Singles title has been won by Bob St. Louis (1966) and Phil Green of Victoria (1971). Also, the Pacific Northwest International Team Trophy has been won 8 times by teams from Vancouver and once by a team from Victoria in the years since it was first played for in 1951; Vancouver is the 1972 defending champion.
During the 1960’s the B.C. Squash Championships were dominated by two players – Jim Macken and Martin Gibson. Macken, also well-known in tennis circles, first won the provincial title in 1955 with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Harry Bell-Irving. He then repeated as Champion in the 3 years 1960-2. Sandy Robertson won twice in 1963 and 1965 but Martin Gibson then became the established titleholder winning the Championships 6 times during the 8 years 1964-72. The only players to break Gibson’s hold on hold on the Jukes-Goolden Challenge Cup during those years were Robertson and two talented junior players who will be heard from a great deal more in future years – Michael Greenwood of Victoria (1968) and Robin Wade (1972).
British Columbia Squash Racquets Association
Provincial Men’s Singles Champions
1933 Harold Vernon 1956 Harry Bell-Irving
1934 Dr. Jack Wright 1957 Harry Bell-Irving
1935 Jim McMullen 1958 Gene Hoover
1936 Dr.,Jack Wright 1959 Kemble Greenwood
1937 Jim McMullen 1960 Jim Macken
1938 Jim McMullen 1961 Jim Macken
1939 Jim McMullen 1962 Jim Macken
1940 Jim Wilson 1963 Sandy Robertson
1941 Jim Wright 1964 Martin Gibson
1942-49 No Provincial Championship held 1965 Sandy Robertson
1950 Jack Larsen 1966 Martin Gibson
1951 Jack Larsen 1967 Martin Gibson
1952 Ed Kemble 1968 Michael Greenwood
1953 Jack Larsen 1969 Martin Gibson
1954 Brian Bell-Irving 1970 Martin Gibson
1955 Jim Macken 1971 Martin Gibson
1972 Robin Wade
Although, due to restrictions of travel time and expense, leading BC players have over the years tended to restrict their competitive play to provincial and Pacific Coast tournaments, several players have, in recent years, competed successfully in national tournaments. The first large-scale exposure of BC players to eastern competition took place when four 7-man teams from British Columbia participated in the Centennial Squash Tournament held in October, 1967 in Toronto, Ontario. In that unforgettable tournament, which involved over 200 squash players from all parts of Canada, the Vancouver Racquets Club team reached the third round of Division “A” competition while the Jericho Tennis Club team of Lawrence Barclay, George Morfitt, Jim Macken, Dr. Mitch Hiddleston, Jack Volrich, Bill Picken and Don Starling won the Division “B” Championship.
In the years which have followed the Centennial Tournament, a number of BC players have attended both the Canadian and United States National Squash Championships and have competed with a good measure of success. Reference has already been made to Bob Wade’s winning in 1968 of the U.S. Senior Veterans Singles Championship. Other notable achievements are:
David Foster Finalist, 1971 and 1972 Canadian Veterans Singles Championship
Robin Wade Semi-finalist, 1972 Canadian Junior Singles Championship; Finalist, 1971 Canadian Junior Singles Championship
Pat Richardson Finalist, 1971 and 1972 Canadian Juvenile Singles Championship
Jane Dixon Finalist, 1971 Canadian Ladies Singles Championship
Michael Greenwood Semi-finalist, 1968 US Junior Singles Championship
National rankings have been given to 15 BC players over the 5 years 1968 to 1972. Two players, Martin Gibson and George Morfitt, have been ranked in the top 10 of Men’s Singles and 3 others have been ranked first in their respective divisions: David Foster (Veterans Singles), Jane Dixon (Ladies Singles) and Robin Wade (Junior Singles).
Two of British Columbia’s past squash champions have to date been elected to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of their considerable sporting achievements: Dr. Jack Wright and Sandy Robertson.
The Outstanding Builders
While it is a relatively easy task to establish, from the results of major competitions, who the leading B.C. players have been through the years, it is far more difficult to determine those persons who have made the greatest contributions to the promotion and expansion of the game of squash in the province. The players record their successes in local, provincial or national tournaments while the builders make their contributions in more subtle ways, involving themselves in such matters as court construction, coaching, promotion organization and administration.
Certainly, without the effort and enthusiasm given over the years by many dedicated squash “builders” the sport would not be enjoying the popularity and growth that is so evident today. And although there are literally scores of persons who have made important and lasting contributions to squash in British Columbia it is fitting that the most outstanding of these be given special recognition here.
During the years preceding the Second World War, when squash in BC was in its infancy and there were but few dedicated enthusiasts playing the game, important leadership was provided by Irene and Ernest Rogers, Captain Massey Goolden and Keith Verley. Ernest Rogers built the first North American-sized court in Vancouver which provided the impetus for the playing of the North American game in the area. The Rogers Court was very actively used for many years and, in the early 1950’s prior to the construction of the Vancouver Racquets Club, was the home of squash in the city. Captain Goolden, a quiet man with an abiding interest in squash, was instrumental in establishing the Vancouver Squash League and, with A.E. John Jukes, donated the Jukes-Goolden Challenge Cup which is still awarded today to the winner of the Provincial Championships.
Keith Verley, for many years a squash and tennis professional in Vancouver, was an accomplished squash player who devoted much of his time and energy to improving the standard of play and generally promoting the sport, particularly during the 1930’s.
After the War, it was Eric Beardmore who obtained for Vancouver squash players the use of the old Jericho Golf & Country Club courts, then owned by the Department of National Defence. When in 1952 the D.N.D. courts were converted into offices, Irene Rogers came to the rescue of the Vancouver squash fraternity by opening up the Rogers Court to general use.
In Victoria after the Second World War, Frank Donegani helped to re-activate the Sussex Squash Club at the Sussex Hotel courts built by Bill Dunbar prior to the War. Later, when the Club amalgamated with the Victoria Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club, the growth of squash in the city was accelerated by the interest and devotion given to the game by such players as Alan Harris, Dr. Kemble Greenwood, Dr. Bob Houston, Andy Pitkethley and the late Jim McArthur.
The establishment in 1954 of the old Vancouver Racquets Club as the first membership squash club in Vancouver must rank as the most important step forward for squash in British Columbia in the past 25 years. Before the club was formed, squash in Vancouver had no permanent home and therefore no direction. When the VRC courts were opened, the sport gained a new vitality and has moved forward steadily ever since. Great credit has to be given to Ed Gudewill and, in particular, Harry Bell-Irving for being the driving forces behind the club’s creation. They received much-needed assistance from John Nicolls, Jim Forsythe, Jack Larsen and others in order to complete the task of building the new courts, but it was their inspiration which initiated the project and carried it through to fruition.
The new Vancouver Racquets Club opened its doors in January, 1970 after many months of negotiations regarding the sale of the club’s old property and the lease of the new site. Most of these negotiations and the planning for the new facility were handled by three members – Neil Desaulners, Ken Gunning and Sandy Robertson – and their contribution to the success of the new operation is recognized by a bronze plaque which adorns the foyer wall of the new club.
Of course, it is impossible to discuss the construction of squash court in the Vancouver area without making reference to the extraordinary contributions made over the last decade by Dr. Mitch Hiddleston. Dr. Hiddleston, a former President of the Pacific Coast Squash Racquets Association and a ranking veteran player, was instrumental in having squash courts established at Jericho Tennis Club, YMCA of New Westminster, Evergreen Squash Club and the Hollyburn Country Club. The forming of the highly successful Evergreen Squash Club, despite many delays and rebuffs, is a credit to his perseverance and enthusiasm.
Sandy Robertson also figures prominently in the planning and building of squash courts in Vancouver. Besides actively pursuing, on behalf of The Jesters Club, the establishment of new courts at the UBC Winter Sports Centre, he has acted as consulting engineer for the construction of many of the courts built in and around the city. In addition, he figured prominently in the reactivation in the mid-1960’s of the BC Squash Racquets Association.
With the building in 1967 of The Racquet Club of Victoria, squash in the capital city has now become well and permanently established. Mention has already been made of those who provided important contributions to squash in Victoria in the years preceding the 1960’s; many of those same squash enthusiasts were active in the creation of the new Club. Since the opening of the new facility, vital contributions to the club and to squash have also been made by persons such as Doug Hawkes and Bert Matthews. And, at the same time as they have been successfully improving squash at The Racquet Club of Victoria, it has been Ed Gudewill, now a Victoria resident, who has sparked the resurgence of play at the old Sussex Hotel courts.
Because there were, until recent years, but a limited number of squash playing facilities in British Columbia and on the Pacific Coast and a relatively small group of squash players using those facilities, the organization of squash tournament schedules, rankings and other related matters has been handled by a Pacific Coast Squash Racquets Association. This Association, which encompasses the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada and the states of Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada in the United States and is the only international association in North America, has been a strong uniting influence for squash in the west. Canadian Presidents of this Association have been:
1954-55 Ed Kemble (Vancouver)
1956-57 Dr. Kemble Greenwood (Victoria)
1959-60 Alan Harris (Vancouver)
1961-62 Bert Matthews (Victoria)
1964-65 Hilary Wotherspoon (Vancouver)
1967-68 Dr. Kemble Greenwood (Victoria)
1969-70 Dr. Mitch Hiddleston (Vancouver)
Alan Harris, now resident in Victoria, has served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Association since 1964.
The BC Squash Racquets Association was first formed in the 1930’s but after a few years was disbanded due to lack of significant activity. Because of the recent surge of interest in squash, the Association was re-established in the mid-1960’s and is today the strongest and most active regional squash association on the Pacific Coast. Recent Presidents of the Association have been:
1967-69 Neil Desaulniers
1969-72 George Morfitt
1972-73 Roger Ovens
The member clubs of the BCSRA have for several years been members of the Canadian Squash Racquets Association and, through the Executive Committee of the BC Squash Racquets Association, are playing an ever-increasing role in the organization and administration of the national body. In 1971, Neil Desaulniers was elected as a Vice-President of the CSRA, and in 1972 both Desaulniers and George Morfitt were elected to the 5-man National Executive Committee.
The Jesters Club (British Columbia Branch)
The Jesters Club is an international club of squash players and other sportsmen, with headquarters in London, England, having as its patron HRH Duke of Edinburgh. The club is dedicated in large part to the organization and promotion of squash racquets throughout the world and to the encouragement of the game at its most sporting best. Persons elected to membership in the club are selected from players who are considered to possess those personal qualities which will further the club’s high aims and objectives.
A branch of the Jesters Club was formed in British Columbia in 1956. The only two Jesters resident in BC at that time were E.R. (Ned) Larsen, Headmaster of Shawnigan Lake School, and Dr. Kemble Greenwood of Victoria, both of whom were members elected in England. At Ned Larsen’s instigation they entered into correspondence in 1955 with Harold Martin, then Canadian representative to the Jesters Club in England, regarding the formation of a BC nest.
The original members of the BC nest, apart from Ned Larsen and Dr. Kemble Greenwood, were elected in 1956: Harry Bell-Irving, Dr. Bob Houston, Ed Kemble, Jack Larsen, Jim Macken and John Nicolls. The First General Meeting of the B.C. Jesters was held at Ed Kemble’s home in Vancouver on February 22, 1958. Since that date, the club has been very active in the promotion of squash racquets in British Columbia through the providing of coaching, exhibition matches and the general impetus for the construction of new court facilities.
Many players have been elected to membership in the Club since 1956 and the present list of members is as follows:
Fred Baker Bruce Jaffary
Harry Bell-Irving Ed Kemble
Bill Crawford Lome Main
Neil Desaulniers Jim Macken
David Foster Bert Matthews
Martin Gibson George Morfitt
Dr. Kemble Greenwood John Nicolls
Julian Greenwood Roger Ovens
Alan Harris Sandy Robertson
Doug Hawkes Henry Tregillas
Dr. Mitch Hiddleston Bob Wade
Dr. Bob Houston Ron Weber
Mike Jackson Nigel Williams
Two members, Brian Bell-Irving and Jack Larsen, are now deceased and Gene Hoover is resident in the United States. Ned Larsen is currently Headmaster of Appleby College in Ontario.
Squash Courts in Existence in British Columbia – 1972
Singles Courts Doubles Courts
Lower Mainland, Vancouver: The Arbutus Club , Columbia Squash Centre, Jericho Tennis Club, Jewish Community Centre, Men’s Athletic & Recreation Centre, University of British Columbia -Cecil Green Park (private), Winter Sports Centre, Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club, Vancouver Racquets Club, Y.M.C.A. of Greater Vancouver, Wills (ex Rogers) court (private), Wyder (ex Goolden) court (private),
West Vancouver and Howe Sound:
Evergreen Squash Club, Lovatt Davies court (private), Spuraway Apartments (private)
New Westminster: Y.M.C.A. of New Westminster
Greater Victoria: Naden (Canadian Air Force Base), Racquets Club of Victoria, Royal Roads (Canadian Services College), Sussex Hotel 2, Convent School (private)
Other: Shawnigan Lake Boys’ School, Cowichan Bay (private), Duncan (private)
Other Parts of the Province: Chilliwack Community Centre, Prince Rupert Recreation Centre, Trail Cominco Arena
Note: in addition to the above there are 2 courts at the Hollyburn Country Club and 1 court at the YMCA of New Westminster which are under construction with completion scheduled for the fall of 1972.
Addendum – The Vancouver Club
The present Vancouver Club is located at 915 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. It does not have a squash court on the premises. The original club, built at 901 West Hastings Street was built in 1892 and opened April, 1894. Such premises were next door to the present club location and currently is a parking lot.
In the original club was constructed a racquet court together with a bowling alley, etc. The court was located just behind the billiard room. While the court was sometimes called a racquet court and at other times a squash court, it is not clear which kind of court it was. However, Mrs. Ernest Rogers believes that it was indeed a squash court.
In the minutes of a General Committee Meeting dated July 17, 1901 (first recorded Minutes of the Club) the following were recorded expenses:
Repairs to racquets courts $17.50
New Racquet Balls $28.36
Chairing the meeting was H. Abbott with J.G. Woods and F.M. Chaldecott in attendance.
In 1906 the court became a “depressed and forsaken place.” In the club suggestion book were ideas for clean-up of the court and repair of leaks therein. By the end of 1910 the situation appeared hopeless regarding revitalization of the court. Junk and debris was stored in the gallery.
In 1930 the original club building was in the hands of wreckers. Wrecking began January 6, 1930.
(The above information is contained in a History of the Vancouver Club published in 1972.)