June 28, 1924 was the opening day of the Kingston Tennis Club on what is now the field of Winston Churchill Public School. There was a "Tennis Tips" column in the British Whig and Treadgold's Sporting Goods promoted "Lawn Tennis -- the better game for everyone" with tennis racquets starting at 50 cents. In 1927, the club purchased land one block to the west for $1,100, to create our present site.
As told by Kingston resident Don Hooper, the wooden clubhouse was constructed by his grandfather's company, Hooper Construction. The firm was later sold to MacLachlan Woodworking - the MacLachlan family name will surface several times in the history of the club. Don also worked at the club as a teenager in the late 1940s. He and a teenage friend gave themselves the title of "managers" and took care of the grounds and prepared and served burgers from the upstairs kitchen, taking turns to also play tennis. They shared a basic salary of
$100/month which was supplemented by the proceeds of any additional sales that they made.
Conversations with other former club members of the 1940s and onwards revealed that the clubhouse served as a hangout for teenagers during the summer months. They would play tennis and card games, and hold dances upstairs.
Mystery of the Clubhouse Location - Sale of Earl Street Properties
The wooden clubhouse is located at the north end of the property, away from the club's current entrance west on Napier Street. A tennis club would be expected to locate its clubhouse at the northern end of its grounds, where it would also be the main entry point to those grounds. That our clubhouse isn't the entry point reflects the long and often impecunious history of our club, that has seen its share of asset sales to stay afloat. Fortunately, we still have the original wide expanse of verdant lawn at the Napier Street entrance to extend a friendly welcome to members and guests to the club, and generally enhance club operations and social interactions.
When the clubhouse was built, the club's main entrance (and street address) was on Earl Street, at the northern end of the grounds. At that time, the club's property included the three residential lots that now lie to the north of Courts 1 & 7. These were used for parking: you can see in the black-and-white film, c1935, posted on YouTube (i) that there are cars parked in this area.
Property transfer documents in the Queen's Archives reveal that the three lots fronting on Earl Street (187, 188, 189, 190), part of City Block 358, were severed and sold by the tennis club as three residential building lots in 1942 and 1943. The club received $1,600 in 1942/43 from these three sales. Ten years later, two of those three properties re-sold for $12,850 and $18,000, totalling $30,850 (part of this increase in value would reflect the construction of homes on the lots).
Shedding those three lots represents the first sale of KTC real estate, presumably in an attempt to overcome financial difficulties arising from the Depression and the war years. The Second World War negatively impacted membership in two ways during the 1940s: many Kingstonians were fighting overseas and those who remained had less time to play tennis, as they put their energies towards the war effort.
Sale of the Club to Queen's University
The entire Kingston Tennis Club property that remained was sold by its owner-members to Queen's University in 1953 for the discounted price of $6,613 (the market value was estimated at between $18,000 and $25,000).
At a meeting of the Queen's Executive Committee of the Trustees, Grant MacLachlan, a charter and life member of the Kingston Tennis Club, recommended that a letter be written to the Secretary-Treasurer of the Club offering to purchase the club, with the cost to be in the range of $6,000-8,000. A.C. Tillotson, Treasurer, Committee of the Trustees, subsequently sent a letter to Ian MacLachlan, Acting Secretary-Treasurer of the Kingston Tennis Club Limited, 223 Willingdon Avenue, Kingston. (Ian was also on the Queen's Athletic Board.) The KTC then authorized its board of directors to arrange the sale of the property to Queen's.
The club had again been facing financial difficulties and had approached Queen's with a mutually-beneficial arrangement - the university would buy the club, with the understanding that it would be leased back and continue to operate for at least ten years with membership open to the general public as well as to the Queen's community. Queen's agreed, as they had recently demolished their own tennis courts to construct the Gordon Hall extension and were seeking alternative facilities. It was more economical for them to purchase the club than to construct the new courts that they had promised to the Queen's Athletic Board of Control. The university would hold title to the KTC property and the Athletic Board of Control was responsible for overseeing operations, including the absorption of any profits or losses incurred (ii).
Incorporation as a Non-Profit Club
April 29, 1963 - incorporation of the Kingston Tennis Club Inc. and adoption of the by-laws
September 26, 1963 - meeting of the first directors to organize the Company; election of officers and passing of by-laws
Donald James Delahaye, President (paediatrician)
John Frederick Johnson, Vice President (bookkeeper)
George Bailey, Secretary
William Howie Aitken, Treasurer (actuary)
Morton Morris, Tournament Director
Re-Purchase of the Club
On June 29, 1989, the office of the Vice-Principal (Resources) at Queen's sent a letter(iii) to the tennis club to remind it that the annual rent was overdue and that it had also decided to sell the property. The university planned to realize the significant appreciation in the value of the land and offered a six-month lease from July 1, 1989 to allow completion of the 1989 season.
Following years of delays and heated discussion, members of the Kingston Tennis Club successfully negotiated a resolution to this dilemma and repurchased the property in 1997 for $320,000. The club initially took on a mortgage, then replaced that with debentures held by club members. The club paid off the final set of debentures in April, 2014, four years ahead of schedule, and became the sole owner of the property once again. Hard work, and a rewarding ending to this cautionary tale!
Concrete Tennis Courts
KTC members originally played on courts made from concrete slabs. The photograph from the mid 1930s, below, shows Courts 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. At that time, the backboard/hitting wall was on Court 6 with empty fields surrounding the club instead of the private residences of today.
Member George Clark joined the club sometime between 1968-1970. He notes that each court consisted of four concrete slabs and that frost heave had lifted one slab more than its neighbour, creating a real hazard for players. All the concrete courts had cracks and he estimates that they were covered with asphalt in 1972-73.
Member Neil Neasmith joined the club as a junior in the 1950s. He remembers that playing on the concrete courts was like playing on the sidewalk - the surface was coarse and tough on tennis balls (maybe three sets before most of the fuzz was worn off) and tough on shoes. As time went on, the cracks in the concrete slabs were getting deeper, creating some ‘bad bounces’. The club tried to lessen the coarseness of the courts by bringing in a company with a polishing machine. He says it was fortunate that the experiment was done on only one court, as it created a court so fast, it resembled playing on ice. Neil agrees with George that the courts were probably paved over in the early 1970s. This significantly reduced the frost heaving and gave KTC the six best courts in Kingston ever since.
The MacLachlan Family
Marian (MacLachlan) McPherson stopped by the club while visiting Kingston in 2013 and regaled people with tales of the past. Her father was Ian MacLachlan and she lived on Willingdon Avenue as a young child in the 1930s when farm fields were being developed into a residential neighbourhood. Marian remembers having to wear a large bow in her hair so she could be seen by her mother when walking across the overgrown fields to the tennis club. She became an accomplished tennis player and in 1954 won the Women's Doubles club championship. Her grandfather, Alexander MacLachlan, lived next door to them at 95 Hill Street.
Alexander MacLachlan graduated from Queen's in 1884, became a minister and went to Turkey as a missionary, where he lived until 1926. He established and was president of International College in Smyrna, Turkey (now Izmir), had tennis courts built there, and many buildings designed and built in the same style as those at Queen's. The sports facilities were extensive and he hosted a sports competition for the area that encompassed the eastern Mediterranean countries, doing this before 1896 when the first modern Olympics took place. During World War I he was confined to the campus as an enemy alien - Turkey was aligned with Germany, he was Canadian, and his son, Grant MacLachlan, had enlisted in the Canadian forces and was overseas fighting against the Germans.
Ian MacLachlan - one of Alexander's other sons, and Marian's father - was born in Turkey and learned to play tennis at the college run by his father. He then came to Kingston to attend Queen's and graduated in 1925. The Alexander MacLachlan Peace Prize is an award in the Department of History at Queen's that was established by Marian in her grandfather's name.
Both Ian and Grant MacLachlan were skilled tennis players and won several of the club championships. The club's records show that Grant won the Men's Singles in 1927 and 1933, and Men's Doubles with Ian in 1935. Ian has seven wins listed, from 1934 to 1940.
Canadian Tennis Champion
Elaine (Fildes) Bryans
During a conversation with a senior neighbour in the west end of Kingston, it was learned that she had been a KTC president in the 1950s and had coached John McFarlane when he was a junior. Commenting on her own playing ability, Elaine Bryans (née Fildes) said that she was a “pretty good tennis player in her day.” Another neighbour said afterwards that she had been more than good - she had been national champion! Following up with Elaine, it was learned that she was the No.1 ranked female tennis player in Canada in 1947 and the No.2 ranked singles player in both 1949 and 1950, competing in what was then known as the Canadian Championships and is now the Rogers Cup.
Elaine, who also teamed-up with Patricia Macken to become the top-ranked women's doubles team in the country, qualified for the U.S. national championships three straight years beginning in 1947. Elaine came to Kingston from Montreal in 1951 as a Queen’s PhysEd instructor and coached the university’s tennis teams. She was inducted as an athlete into the McGill Hall of Fame in 2006.
Jenny Ellis played in many competitions as a junior in Australia, in the U15 and U17 classifications of NSW state competitions, reaching the finals at times. She is a contemporary of tennis champion Margaret Court (Smith) and world squash champion Heather McKay (Blundell). Both Margaret Court and Jenny Ellis grew up in country towns and played together at "Country Week", a time when juniors were invited to play tennis in Sydney during Christmas break.
Jenny's family had a tennis court at home and she would play every day after school with kids from the neighbourhood. Tennis is a way of life in Australia - her parents would regularly invite friends over on Sunday afternoons for a "tennis party." They would take it in turns to play tennis and in between games they would chat and enjoy tea and cookies.
Following training as a physiotherapist, Jenny sailed to Canada in 1963 with some other young physiotherapists and travelled around North America on a $99 bus ticket. They eventually needed to get jobs, which brought them to Kingston. She shared an apartment with KTC member Ruth George, who introduced her to the tennis club. They played most of the summer until the president came up to them to say you must join if you want to keep playing. Jenny became a member, playing with Liz Hooper and Elaine Bryans among others, and went on to win several club championships between 1979 and 1986. Jenny was inducted into the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, recognizing her lifetime accomplishments in tennis, golf, and squash.
Her son, James Ellis, attended Queen's and was a steward and then a pro at the KTC, moving on to the Royal Ottawa Club and eventually migrating to Australia where he is now a school teacher. Another son, Peter Ellis, was also a club steward.
In the early 80s, when James was either a steward or a pro at the KTC, Jenny and her husband, John, had been out of town for a few days. John came back a day early to find a house party going on. The kids, aged 15 or 17, had the club's ball machine set up at one end of their long hallway, shooting balls down the hall. John let out a roar and all the kids dived out of the various doors of the house. The damage was one cracked window and a broken vase.
Back in the early days of the club, the KTC awarded tournament winners with their own miniature silver trophy.
Ross MacLachlan found his grandfather’s trophies stored away and forgotten in a cardboard box. The removal of almost a century’s worth of black tarnish revealed the treasure hidden beneath the surface.
The trophy from 1926 is hallmarked as sterling silver. The 1933 trophies reflect more frugal times and are not made of pure silver.
Black and White Film, c. 1935
The black-and-white film set at the club was created by Ian MacLachlan, a founding member, who often brought his film camera to the club. His daughter Marian "Squirt" MacLachlan passed on the original film at the request of former KTC member Cathy Fee, whose father is in the film. The lively man in the film wearing an "A" on his sweater is Cathy Fee's father, Colin E. MacPherson. He owned a business located at 468 Rideau Street, the C.E. MacPherson Company, that manufactured steel products.
Cathy's sister-in-law digitized the film and added the music to create the version you now see. Cathy donated a copy of the film to the club in 2004 as part of the club's 80th anniversary celebrations.
Silver trophies won by Grant MacLachlan in 1926 & 1933. Donated to the club by his grandson, Ross MacLachlan.
Video of Kingston Tennis Club, c1935 (i)
(back left), Marian )front) held by her mother
Ian MacLachlan (back, left),
Marian (front) held by her mother
Grant MacLachlan holding daughter, Catherine
Alexander MacLachlan, missionary, College President, early tennis pioneer
(i) Video posted on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYdwtNqEzWc
(ii) Minutes of the Queen's Executive Committee of the Trustees, dated February 7 and April 11, 1953. Courtesy of the Queen's University Archives
(iii) Letter from the Office of the Vice Principal (Resources), dated June 29, 1989. Courtesy of the Queen's University Archives
Thanks to all those who contributed to this page, especially Paula Loh who initiated it and gathered much of the original information. If you or someone you know have additional historically interesting KTC information, please let us know!