by Karyn Klaire Koski

Just after the Presbyterian Church (that we now know as Roncy United) was built on Roncesvalles Avenue at the turn of the century – real estate developer, RW Prittie, set his sights on constructing a social & recreational facility that had the potential to attract new residential buyers to the new west end countryside development, called Sunnyside.

At that time, High Park Club was just a group of local men who curled on Grenadier Pond in the winter and gathered every summer to lawn bowl and play tennis. They played either on nearby local vacant lots, or on the lawn of the Presbyterian Church. Club members longed to build a complex that would have a rink, extensive lawns for bowling and tennis and a clubhouse for cards, billiards and other social pursuits.

Member Prittie, (whose home Westlawn 1 High Park Avenue/demolished in 1955) and five other local investors, acquired a beautiful rural lot along Indian Road that ran deep enough to flank Keele Street (now Parkdside Drive) and the building process began.

Although slightly incomplete, the High Park Curling & Lawn Bowling Club hosted an opening Gala on December 15th, 1911, in the then, sparsely populated area. It was a challenging start.  Residents who moved into the area found the Club too expensive and so membership was low.Then WW1 (1914-1918) took men off to war and household incomes were challenged even more. Eventually the Club went bankrupt and foreclosed in 1916, with the doors closing for good, during the fall of 1917.

Prittie and another founding member, Edwin Walker (who lived on nearby Westminster) offered up a new mortgage with their own personal funds. The members of the Club restructured their directives, which included giving up the portion of land that faced Keele Street (now Parkside Drive).

The first expansion occurred in 1921, which doubled the size of the complex and aesthetics because of the addition of panoramic plate glass windows. New homes were being built everywhere, St. Joseph’s Hospital opened nearby and then Sunnyside Beach & Amusement park opened in 1922. The area was booming and enjoying destination status. By 1926, the Club converted to artificial ice, added locker rooms, change rooms and expanded the Clubhouse thereby allowing remodelling of the second floor to include a new dining hall. Before the outbreak of WWII (1939-1945) there were notable New Year’s Eve parties, weddings and special permitted functions. It was a prosperous time.

There was much change in the 1950’s. The decade started off with the Club expanding the second floor to add a lounge and new ladies bathrooms & lockers. In 1958 the basement was enlarged under the west half of the complex to accommodate additional men’s rooms and lockers. Finally, in 1959 the Club obtained a Liquor License and a Bar Lounge was opened. Due to the lawn bowling declining in popularity, some of the North Green Lawns were turned into a parking lot.

By the end of 1960, a north wing was added. The old lounge was renovated to include two rows of opera seating, to overlook the curling rink, and more viewing windows were extended to oversee the North. Spectators had the opportunity to watch players dressed in whites on sixteen greens surrounded by climbing roses, lilacs, towering chestnuts and well-manicured garden beds.

Unfortunately, due to the rise in popularity of golf and cottaging in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, membership started to decline. The solution was to convert the bowling greens into lawn tennis courts and by doing so, the Club attracted new clientele and is still one of the only Clubs in Toronto, that tennis can be played on grass.

In 1986, the Club voted in its first female President. Since then, there have been another five. The last decade saw a steady flow of successful curling activity and so it was decided that just before the building’s Centennial Year, a $1.3 million dollar renovation was agreed upon to update the building to current standards without losing the integrity of the heritage design.

Today High Park Club welcomes National Curling Leagues, is a sought-after tennis association and a charming special events facility for weddings, parties and group functions.

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