To find out more about this revered institution I set up an interview with Ken Bingham, long-time member of the Balmy Beach Club, and the official historian of this institution. The Balmy Beach Club, a non-profit organization, is a social and athletic club that came into existence in 1905. It has about 1400 members in two membership categories: the social membership provides access to upstairs facilities, including the bar, lounge, patio and banquet hall. Social members are able to attend a wide variety of functions, for example the Superbowl Party, a Glen Miller Dance, Rock Star Karaoke, a Martini Night and many more. Members in the social category also participate at no extra cost in lawn bowling, volleyball and most social functions run through the club. In addition, members are eligible to rent the banquet facility for private functions such as birthday parties, anniversaries and weddings. Many local community organizations also use the club to hold special events or fundraisers.
The fitness membership includes the privileges of the social membership and additionally provides access to the fitness room, the squash courts, sauna and change rooms on the lower level of the building. With this level of membership it is feasible to join the canoe, hockey or rugby sections of the club. Sports such as curling, tennis, football and lawnbowling are offered as well through the club.
For more than a century the Balmy Beach Club has been noted for its athletic teams which started out with canoeing and lawn bowling, and were later expanded to add other activities such as curling, hockey, squash and volleyball. Ken explained that the land for the Club was donated by Sir Adam Wilson, an Ontario Chief Justice in the second half of the 19th century. The land for the Balmy Beach Park was incorporated in 1903.
The first club house, a beautiful two level structure with large wooden verandas, opened in 1905, but it unfortunately burnt to the ground in 1936. Another club house was built, but again fire struck in 1963. The current club house dates back to 1965.
While Ken was grabbing me some extra papers with historic information I took the opportunity to talk with Chris Buckley, the current president of the club, now serving his second term. Chris works full time in sales, and in his spare time he oversees the club and chairs the board. He informed me that this is a volunteer position, and that a Board of Directors is responsible for the main athletic sections (canoeing, lawn bowling, volleyball, hockey, rugby and squash). Chris further explained that membership is actually rather reasonable for a private club: the social membership is $260 a year while the fitness or athletic membership costs $420 per year. An initiation fee of $300 applies to first-time members, but that fee is sometimes waived during special promotions.
Chris Buckley indicated that he is very interested in increasing the membership of the Club since a larger roster of members also helps to defray the costs of running the club. Sometimes the Balmy Beach Club holds open houses and invites the community at large to get to know the club, its facilities and recreational opportunities. He indicated that the club is very open and welcoming, and has members from as far away as Brampton and Mississauga, but there are also a number of international members who reside in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Australia and New Zealand.
The sports teams themselves run various fundraising events Vclub to cover the costs of insurance and other necessary funds for their sports activities. A very popular fundraising event is a volleyball tournament, and participants often show up outfitted in funny costumes. One time a team was dressed up as gladiators, another time they were pretending to be waiters with bowties from the “Goof” , the affectionately nicknamed historic Garden Foods Chinese restaurant just up the street.
The club itself also gets involved in charitable activities on behalf of the Beach community. The club sponsors local high school baseball, lacrosse and hockey teams, and club members also provide a scholarship to one male and one female student at Malvern Collegiate. During the summer the club runs a canoe/kayak day camp for about 300 children. The linkages to the community are strong.
I inquired into general information about the club, and Chris informed me that the opening hours are Monday to Sunday from 6 am to 1 am. He chuckled and said “the bar closes when the president goes home”. New developments are also in the works: the city wants to build additional volleyball courts on the sandy beach right in front of the club. Toronto has actually become known as the beach volleyball Mecca in Canada with a variety of leagues and tournaments encompassing hundreds of teams that are run out of Ashbridges Bay. The Balmy Beach Club was actually were it all started, and Canadian beach volleyball celebrities Mark Heese and John Child both used to play at the Balmy Beach Club. Heese and Child participated in three Olympic Games: the team won the bronze medal in Atlanta (1996), came in 5th in Sydney (2000) and 5th again in Athens (2004).
World caliber athletes have been coming out of the Balmy Beach Club for a long time. International rugby players have been developed at the Balmy Beach Club, and Chris adds that there are eight senior players that played on the Canadian national rugby team, while six Balmy Beach junior players are currently playing for Canada. Several paddlers from the Balmy Beach Club have won Olympic medals in kayaking and canoeing as well.