Vancouver Racquets Club

Club FormationVRC-Old-Building-cropped

The roots of the club go as far back as 1929 although the Vancouver Racquets Club was officially registered as a non-profit society in December 1953. The club is a registered non-profit society incorporated under the Societies Act.

Originally located at the corner of Oak and King Edward Ave., the Vancouver Racquets Club moved to its current location in 1969. The City of Vancouver wanted to build a shopping centre at Oak and King Edward Avenue and agreed to provide a site in Hillcrest Park so the club could relocate its facilities onto park land. The club members agreed and a twenty year lease with The City of Vancouver to operate a Squash and Badminton Club was signed. Under the lease the City provided the land and the club was responsible to build and pay for the new building and all future improvements. The members agreed to relocate and Safeway helped provide some financing for the construction of the building on Ontario Street.

For more details go to the Badminton review and Squash review.

In the early days of the club, less than two hundred members played Squash and Badminton. Today VRC has close to 1200 active members. As the club improved and expanded, the number of members has grown consistently over the years.  Membership growth was gradual but consistent.

Building History

The Vancouver Racquets Club located at 4867 Ontario Street was built in 1969. Over the years, as the demand for the use of the facilities grew, VRC expanded to fulfill the need.

Since the original construction in 1969 the club has continuously improved the facilities:

  • 1969 – VRC is built in Hillcrest Park.
  • 1977 – The change rooms and lounge were expanded and 3 squash courts were added
  • 1984 – 2 additional squash courts and 2 badminton courts were added.
  • 1992 – the change rooms and the lounge were expanded
  • 2002  – Two non conforming squash courts were converted into a fitness area.
  • 2012 – Bar renovation and ladies change room updated.
  • 2013 –  Built a mezzanine over 2 squash courts


  The History of the Vancouver Racquets Club

             The story and history of Vancouver Racquets Club began long before its birth at its present location of 33rd and Ontario.  The legacy’s inception was at its original home of 25th and Oak, and although Sandy Robertson and Neil Desaulniers were the founding fathers of the present club, it is Harry Bell-Irving that proved to be one of the instrumental figures in birthing the original facility.  This is that story in part.

When Harry, along with our late departed Jester friend, John Nicolls, began playing squash in Vancouver, they became players No.’s 12 & 13.  Other than 5 privately owned squash courts, there existed only 2 club courts at the original Jericho Golf & Country Club, which could be used by members.  During the war however, the government took over the Club and it became the Allied Officers Joint Services Club.  After the war the government decided to turn the squash courts into offices.  Hence the Club was closed.  The squash members being quick of mind and still having their door keys, continued to use the facilities.  After a year or so, the powers that be caught on and changed the locks.  This did not deter Harry and the boys however, they still continued to play.  The only change was that they used a window to get into the Club instead of the door.  The final wrench in their regular games came one day when Harry and Jack “Daddy” Larsen were to play.  Following their usual routine, they crawled through the window (which they could still do with great dexterity) changed into strip, and arrived on court.  There they discovered that a window-sized hole had been jackhammered through the front wall.  This ended their squash days at the old Allied Officers Club and the search commenced for a new home to feed their squash addiction.

It was shortly after this time that Harry was finishing off a game of golf with Eddie Gudewill (who just celebrated his 70th birthday this year) at the Capilano Golf Club.  While in the locker room Harry overheard two gentlemen, Colonel Swann of Swann, Rhodes & Wooster and Johnny Jukes of A.E. Jukes Brokers discussing the future of the badminton club they owned.  In those days, young fellows were to be seen and not heard, especially in the presence of these notable individuals.  However, when the suggestion arose that the badminton club should be given to St. Johns Shaughnessy Church at 27th & Granville, Eddie decided to overstep his bounds and interject.  Jukes was somewhat put out by this outburst, but he did say to the boys that if they came and saw him at his office he would talk to them about it.  The compromise was if the church did not want the building then he would support their quest for squash.  As it turned out the Church did not want the building so the task began of acquiring it.

At that time the building was home to three different badminton clubs of which The Hill Club was the controlling group and there were 9700 shares issued and outstanding Harry, along with Eddie Gudewill and John Nicolls decided to canvass the members and acquire the shares, but in all fairness, chose to go first to the Club and see if the badminton members would support this expansion.  That support was not forthcoming.  The boys persisted for the ensuing weeks, hoping to win some of the badminton members over, but when all avenues failed, they decided to go ahead without their blessings.

The next step was to approach George Vale, at that time head of the Royal Trust Company and request that his company act as a depository.  The boys felt that Royal Trust would land an air of great dignity, honesty, and straight forward fair play.  They drew up a document requesting shareholders to donate their shares, conditional on 65% of the shares being acquired.  After an arduous 6 weeks, 80 to 82% of the shares had been obtained.  The difficulty attaining these shares arose for a number of different reasons.  Firstly, the original reason this Club had been founded was for the enjoyment of the Who’s Who of Vancouver and their wives and children.  It was also owned by many of the clients of the firm that Harry worked for, thereby making the process for acquiring the shares somewhat tenuous to say the least.  Each and every acquisition is a story in itself worthy of relaying to a discriminating ear.  Suffice it to say, they managed somehow to come up with the necessary shares.

Now that the shares had been obtained, the next problem seemed to be breaking the news to the existing badminton players.  Upon hearing the news that the shares had in fact been placed in squash custody, the badminton players last line of defense seemed to be to halt this takeover at the level of the Board of Directors Meeting which they still controlled.  To avoid this, two of the shareholders were required to be present at the Special Meeting that Harry in fact arranged.  This was a hurdle that seemed insurmountable because most of the shareholders had no interest in the eventual outcome of the Club.  Harry set about transferring Col. Victor Spence’s shares to his son John, who conveniently enough was a good friend of Harry’s.  John’s heart was in the right place, and Harry felt sure he would make a good representative.  The other shareholder that was solicited was a matriarch known to everybody, whether related to her or not, as “Granny Rogers”.  She was an elderly woman in her late 80’s, possible even early 90’s, who at the time was not well and had not seen the first floor of her house in weeks.  Harry and Eddie arrived at her house to escort here to the Meeting in her chauffeur driven blue Packard.  Having been briefed, John and Granny Rogers headed into the Meeting.  After about 15 minutes the boys were called into the Meeting and advised that there was a new Board of Directors which they were part of.  From that time on, the new Board would consist of 4 nominees for squash: Harry, Eddie, John Nicolls and John Spencer to start with, and 2 nominees were then requested from the badminton people in an attempt to keep them involved.

It was after this first meeting that Harry and John Nicolls set about figuring out how they could make this endeavour financially viable.  They sat down and calculated that the astronomical sum of $30,000.00 was needed to build the squash courts.  They worked out projections for 1 year, 3 years and 5 years as well as various alternatives for each of the above.  No one in the city seemed interested in financing or supporting the Club, even after offering $500.00 guarantees.  So one day Harry was bemoaning his tale in the presence of Jim Forsyth, a Canadian Badminton Champion at one time.  Jim was confident that he could lure the Bank of Montreal into financing the Club.  Although Harry and John Nicolls had already approached and been turned down by the B of M, they decided to give it a second chance with Jim’s help.  Harry offered his projections and ideas to Jim as ammunition, but Jim sluffed them off as nonsense.  An appointment was made and in they headed.  Jim talked about this and that, brushing aside the issue of squash courts whenever it came up.  Harry remembers that he never understood a single word that Forsyth said, but a half an hour later they emerged with the loan in hand.  Harry and John thereafter dubbed this the “Forsyth Nothingness Approach” and claim to have used it ever since to great advantage.

The end of this part of the tale is that they were wrong in their original projections.  They had thought it would take 5 years to earn enough money to pay the $26,000.00 loan.  They also thought they would lose 90% of the badminton members due to the proposed increase in dues ($15.00 per year – shuttlecocks included).  In fact, they jacked the dues to $25.00, shuttlecocks not included.  Squash players were also charged $25.00 per year.  Three years after the courts were built, a party was held complete with a Club Chorus Line and the bank’s note was burned because the loan was paid back.

From an Address by Harry Bell-Irving,
To the Jesters, March 11th, 1986
Edited & Paraphrased by Emily Paakspuu

The History of Badminton Building Limited and Start of

 the Vancouver Racquets Club

             In 1929, Mr. Foster-Huntting, president of the Huntting, Merritt Sawmills Limited was a keen badminton enthusiast, and particularly anxious that his daughter, who showed considerable promise in the game, should have an opportunity to develop her standard of play.  He conveyed his enthusiasm to his badminton friends and in the spring of the year persuaded them that they should raise funds to build a badminton hall.  Up to about this time no properly constructed badminton hall existed in Vancouver and play was confined largely to drill halls and church halls.

Mr. Foster-Huntting had little trouble in getting a number of his influential friends to subscribe sums, ranging from $250.00 to $500.00, to build the Badminton Hall.  These subscriptions were obtained without any promise of a return of interest or principal, and a sum of about $12,000.00 was raised, sufficient to acquire the property and build the hall.  The only concession offered to those who subscribed was free membership in the Badminton Club to be formed, for them and the immediate members of their families.

Mr. W.G. Swan, P. Eng., a close friend of Mr. Foster-Huntting, designed and supervised the erection of the Badminton Hall, which was completed in the Fall of 1929.

The private company, Badminton Building Limited was incorporated to control and operate the building, shares were issued to the subscribers who numbered about 30.  Mr. E.M.C. McLorg, Barrister & Solicitor, became President and Mr. H.R. Partington, then President of the B.C. Badminton Association, Secretary-Treasurer.

The Hill Badminton Club was organized to conduct the actual play, with the hall available for seniors any evening of the week except Sundays, and for juniors any afternoon of the week excepting weekends.  To start with the number of senior players were about 75 and juniors about 120.

The name “Hill Badminton Club” was chosen because a number of those who were most instrumental in supporting Mr. Foster-Huntting in building the Badminton Hall had from time to time played in a scout hall located about 38th Avenue and Hudson Street, which was referred to by them as the Club on the hill.

The junior membership grew rapidly after the first season and a peak membership of about 250 members existed at one time.  This large junior membership was partly due to the employment of a full-time professional, Mr. Guy Reed, who kept up their enthusiasm and improved the standard of play of the more promising juniors.

The senior membership did not do as well, the major difficulty for the better calibre of players being that they had to arrange, in advance, to be up at the Club on the same evenings. This was a new feature to most who had previously played in the 6th D.C.O.R. Drill Hall at the limited times which were Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

To try and offset this factor the senior membership was divided into two groups, “A” and “B”, primarily on the basis of calibre of play, and each group were allotted certain evenings for play.  This improved the situation and the Club continued to operate successfully.

As some of the original junior members grew older they lost their enthusiasm, and finally the junior membership fell off to such an extent that the retention of a full-time professional could not be justified.  In about 1936 Mr. Guy Reed left to take up a position as badminton professional in San Francisco and the junior section finally disbanded for lack of interest.  At about this time the revenue from the Hill Badminton Club must have failed to meet the operating expenses of Badminton Building limited, and the directors decided to rent the building to other clubs, and curtail the playing time for members of the Hill Badminton Club.

Both the Quilchena and Pacific Badminton Clubs had had a long history of successful operation playing in school gymnasiums and they flourished both in membership and calibre of play when their members could enjoy the improved playing facilities offered by the badminton hall.  The Hill Badminton Club also enjoyed improved success due to the restricted playing periods which made it no longer necessary to arrange games in advance.  All three clubs limited their membership to assure a reasonable amount of play for the members.  The Hill Club restricted membership to 60 for the four courts.

The Hill Badminton Club ceased operations during the later years of the Second World War and its playing times were taken over by the West End Badminton Club which had played for many years in the gymnasium of the original Crofton House School located in the West End of Vancouver.  Both the Quilchena and Pacific Badminton Clubs carried on without interruption throughout the war.

The Hill Badminton Club was reorganized for the season 1946-47, and a great many of its former members rejoined the Club.  It operated successfully until the building was no longer available to it.

Upon the death of Mr. H.R. Partington in 1949, I was appointed Secretary-Treasurer of Badminton Building Limited and held this position until the building was taken over by the Squash group.  From time to time as many of the original shareholders, including Mr. Foster-Huntting died or moved from Vancouver, members of the various executives of the Hill Badminton Club bought qualifying shares and became directors of Badminton Building limited.  Annual General Meetings of Badminton Building Limited were held and audited financial statements together with Income Tax Returns were submitted to the Registrar of Companies in accordance with Government regulations.

To maintain proper care of the building living quarters had been provided on the premises for a caretaker, who lived in the building the year round.  The caretaker’s wife provided catering for sandwiches and beverages.

The directors of Badminton Building Limited adjusted the amount of the rentals to be paid by each Club to ensure that the Company could pay all the operating expenses and maintain the building in good repair.  The Hill Badminton Club continued to enjoy the privileges it had always accepted as its rights, from having been the original parent club, and paid no fixed amount as annual rent, but all excess moneys collected from club dues, over and above that required for its own operations.  The building asset account was gradually reduced by writing off depreciation expense until the building was fully depreciated and shown on the books at the value of $1.00.  By accumulating this depreciation expense the Company was saved from paying income tax, a threat which continually concerned the directors.

In the Spring of 1954 when the Department of National Defence found it necessary to take over the two squash courts built originally by the Jericho Golf & Country Club, a group of some 30 to 40 squash players lost their cherished home.  Some of these squash players were the relatives of those who had responded to Mr. Foster-Huntting’s appeal for funds to build the Badminton Building.  They conceived the idea of taking control of the Badminton Building and thereby gaining a home for the squash courts they needed.  They proceeded to quietly approach the original donors and major shareholders requesting that they sign proxies placing their voting rights in the name of Mrs. B.T. Rogers, who was one of the original donors and a staunch advocate for squash, actually possessing a private squash court on her own property.

I am not informed, but believe it quite likely, that Mr. McLorg, who was still President of Badminton Building Limited but who had not taken any active interest in badminton for years, intimated to certain of these squash players that he personally would be glad to relinquish the office of President.

It should be noted that this Squash group did not officially approach to the then directors of Badminton Building Limited.  The directors learned of what was transpiring only when certain shareholders phoned the Secretary-Treasurer and asked what was going on?  The officers and directors soon found out, when Mr. McLorg received a formal notice requesting that he call a Special General Meeting of Badminton Building Limited for the purpose of, “voting the present directors out-of-office and electing new directors.”

The Badminton fraternity were quite naturally more than disturbed when they learned that they were to lose their excellent playing facilities.  I endeavoured to protect the interests of the badminton players by formally advising all shareholders of Badminton Building Limited of what had and what was transpiring and requesting that they give me their proxies to vote at the forthcoming Special General Meeting.  Alas, the great majority had already signed and given their proxies to the Squash group, not being really interested and knowing little of what was happening.  Some did express concern when I pointed out that they had donated their money to Mr. Foster-Huntting to build a badminton hall and to foster the game of badminton.

Possibly by this time this Squash group came to realize, at least to some degree, what a serious blow they were rendering badminton in Vancouver.  Through the good graces of Mr. G. Vale, then local manager of the Royal Trust Company, meetings were held between the vitally concerned directors of Badminton Building Limited and this Squash group to try and work out some solution to permit both games to be accommodated in the building.  The badminton adherents pointed out that it was generally conceded, right across Canada, that four courts were a minimum on which to operate a successful badminton club, and further that it might be possible to get by with three courts but to try and operate with only two courts would be hopeless.

In due course the Special General Meeting of Badminton Building Limited was held, but because Mrs. Rogers was indisposed and not present, no motion was moved.  Mr. McLorg after jokingly asking for the two Squash representatives present to make their motion, adjourned the meeting for about six weeks.  At the reconvened meeting Mrs. Rogers was present and with her proxies voted the officers and directors out-of-office.  It chagrined me to see Mr. McLorg, who had been President of Badminton Building Limited since its inception, and who had served faithfully in this capacity, voted out of office without even a thank you!  So keen were this Squash group to gain control of the building that in my opinion they failed to observe the etiquette which they might have displayed.  Further evidence of the complete disregard for the sentiments of those who were then using the badminton hall was the almost immediate removal of the photographs of Mr. Foster-Huntting and Mr. H.R. Partington which then hung on the walls of the lounge, together with all the three badminton clubs’ challenge trophies.  Some of the latter have since returned to the mantle.

The new slate of officers and directors as proposed by this Squash group were then elected to office.  My name was included in this slate as I had been persuaded that my long association with the badminton players and operations of Badminton Building Limited might prove helpful in organizing the new club.  This I believe was the case.  After considerable study and much to their credit this Squash group devised a means of building two squash courts, one above the other, and so retaining three badminton courts as you see them today.

At this stage what were previously the normal operations of the company, Badminton Building Limited appears to have ceased.  As a shareholder and director I have not received notice of any Annual General Meeting and so presume none have been held in recent years.  I believe it is only a matter of time before the Registrar of Companies will request Income Tax Returns from the company and a proper accounting of its operations.

Having acquired the building at no cost, this Squash group were now primarily concerned in raising funds to build the new squash courts.  This they succeeded in doing and the courts were made available for play in January, 1955.  Due to the construction work in the building it was not possible to permit badminton play until the squash courts were completed.  This meant that the Vancouver Racquets Club had the handicap of starting their first season of play after about half the season had passed, but even with this unfortunate beginning a reasonably good membership was obtained.

Only a very few of the members of the Hill, Quilchena and Pacific Badminton Clubs, the combined membership of which was about 200 when they lost their playing facilities, joined the Vancouver Racquets Club.

It has been implied by some that the private company, Badminton Building Limited, was experiencing financial difficulties at the time of takeover.  This is a plain untruth.  The building was taken over absolutely debt free, in good condition, and with the company’s bank balance in excess of $350.00.  The remaining bank balance of the Hill Badminton Club of about $160.00 was subsequently signed over to the Vancouver Racquets Club.

I have tried to relate the events which took place, as recalled from memory, in a factual manner.  I hope the present members of the Vancouver Racquets Club will be interested in learning how their club came into existence and with this knowledge be stimulated to make their personal contribution to its continued success!

J.E. Underhill
May 1961