Badminton and Racquet Club was home away from home

Destroyed athletic facility recalled fondly in its heyday

HISTORY GUTTED: The Badminton and Racquet Club sits in the wake of a fire that destroyed the building in mid-February.

Christine Farewell, née Grant, used to spend her after-school hours bandying the shuttlecock back and forth with her girlfriends.

During the late 1970s she was attending Branksome Hall and was a member of the school’s badminton team.

Once released from school to travel up Mount Pleasant Road to her home at Lawrence Park, she’d often forgo home time for sports at the Badminton and Racquet Club at Yonge and St. Clair.

“I remember getting off at Yonge and St. Clair, St. Clair subway, and girlfriends and I would go the Swiss Chalet that was there,” she said, seated in her office at Yonge and Eglinton.

These days she calls Toronto’s east end home, and works for a telecommunications company, but those days spent at the B and R with girlfriends Laurie, Tracy and Natalie were memorable.

“I remember it being really old, with a lot of character to the place — wooden slat floors,” she recalled. “It smelled old. There were a lot of old paintings around, and in the women’s locker room it was beautiful.

“Everything was really nicely appointed.”

That was when the club was in its golden anniversary era. B and R was founded in 1924, where a small group established it in a streetcar barn. Seven courts in total who hammered out of the old right-of-way car barns. In 1927, outdoor courts were introduced, and a women’s committee was established.

The neighbourhood was booming. Sir Henry Pellatt’s Casa Loma was down the street, as was the Oakland estate, which is now De La Salle College and Havergal was about to move from its original lodgings.

It was Lieutenant-Colonel George Gooderham Blackstock who purchased the property where the B and R is, and opened it up to Toronto’s elite. Renovations would come and go until the most recent addition in 2014, when the ladies’ locker room was revamped, the Fitness and Wellness facilities were expanded, and the dining area was improved.

Last month was not the first time a fire broke out in the building. In September 2009, an electrical fire started in the men’s sauna. The entire locker room was gutted, and then redone in 2010.

In 1983, the club’s board broke the glass ceiling, as two women were elected: Nancy Doherty and Annabelle Heintzman. Elsie Falconer would be elected as the first female president in 1994.

For Farewell, it was a shock that the recent fire claimed so much of her former stomping grounds.

“It’s really unfortunate,” she said, of the fire. “A mother of a good friend of mine, is a member still, and she said she was very thankful for the firefighters.”

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