by Richard Vincent
The Ottawa New Edinburgh Club (ONEC or ONEC Sports) is one of the oldest multi-sport clubs in Canada with a historic Boathouse that is one of only four of its type in Canada. Its history is interwoven with that of the City of Ottawa itself and continues to play a role in the social and athletic development of our community. Its colours — red, white, and black — are the colours of illustrious Ottawa sports teams. It has long been a meeting place for Ottawa’s sportspeople.
ONEC was established in 1883 as the Ottawa Canoe Club (OCC) on the banks of the mighty Ottawa River. The first boathouse was a floating structure and was moored at the foot of the Rideau Canal locks, near Parliament Hill. Sawdust in the water from Chaudière Falls’ mills provided a navigational deterrent so the Club relocated 2 miles downstream in Governor’s Bay, near the Governor General’s residence, in 1894. For a generation until 1922, the club operated here, where OCC members stored their canoes, set forth on expeditions to adjacent rivers, raced in regattas, and swam.
Just before the First World War, the Club acquired a water lot further downstream adjacent to flat land. This semi-rural location amongst tall white pines was at the end of a streetcar line connecting it to the downtown. Tennis was all the rage and the feeling was that tennis would attract more members. Buoyed by the prospect of a new boathouse situated beside a straight three mile racing course, the members of the New Edinburgh Canoe Club (NECC) decided to merge with the Ottawa Canoe Club (OCC) to form the Ottawa New Edinburgh Canoe Club (ONECC). Because of the Great War and construction costs, it took many years before the new structure was built.
The new Boathouse was a marvel sunk on piles thirty feet into the riverbed. It was steel framed; a concrete breakwater was added in the late 1920s. Ottawa architect C.P. Meredith designed the Boathouse in the Queen Anne recreational style. Features of the structure include a magnificently proportioned ballroom that suited the “roaring twenties” and a two level deck that commands superb views of the Ottawa River. The building was also functional. It contained a boat storage facility below and was the clubhouse for the entire club: the top story locker rooms were used by both canoeists and tennis players. The entrance to the courts was situated immediately across from the Boathouse tower.
The Club’s golden years were from 1923 to 1929. The 1923 inauguration of the Boathouse coincided with the holding of the Canadian Canoe Championships on the adjacent course in the Ottawa River. Membership boomed and Club members won championship after championship, including winning the Birks Cup outright for being Canadian half mile war canoe champions for three years. Much of the competitive success of the Club was attributed to Charles Edmund Mortureux who was in leadership positions in the Club from 1916 to 1946. Eric and Ivan Roy were the most decorated canoeists. Medals and pennants continued, but at diminishing rates, in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. In 1941 the Canadian Canoe Championships were again hosted by ONECC. Dances at the ballroom attracted young singles, lured to the Civil Service that had expanded due to the war effort.
In the 1920s and into the 1940s, besides canoe successes, ONECC tennis rankings were regularly reported in the Ottawa Journal and Citizen as were the successes of the ONECC team in the Ottawa City and District Senior Amateur Hockey Association.
Streetcar service was cut to the Club in 1932. In the mid-1950s the construction of the Rockcliffe Driveway forced the relocation of the tennis courts and physically divided the Club. On a positive note, the seven resulting Euro-style clay courts were, and still are, among the best clay courts in the region.
In 1965, the Club had financial difficulties and was reborn as the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club (ONEC). Dinghy sailing replaced canoeing. Laser sailing and tennis booms of the 1970s and 1980s rejuvenated the Club. At the height of the tennis boom it was difficult to book a court. Tennis championships were won by such stalwarts as the Hurcomb brothers, the Maffetts, and the Matthews. More recently Carlo Zambri, David Sierra, Mark Chew, Renée Soublière, and André Barnes have won multiple championships. Phil Hurcomb began work as a teenager putting down chalk marks at ONEC; after retirement Phil took over from George McKellar as the master worker getting the courts ready for play. Phil is one of four generations of Hurcombs to have been at the Club. Most have taken part in ONEC’s renowned round robins.
By the late 1990’s the club began attracting rowers. In late 2001, the club was approached by seasoned rowers (John Savage, Jon Morris, and Aileen Dimasuay) who wanted a more relaxed recreational rowing Club, but also recognized the great potential of developing a rowing program out of a large boathouse located on a more peaceful stretch of river opposite Kettle Island.
In 2008 the Sail RA group moved from the Recreation Association (RA) and merged with Sail ONEC. This union added a training focus to the existing day camps which had grown greatly under Mike Fossl.
From the late 1990s to 2008, the Boathouse ballroom was a hopping place with swing dancers, Scottish dancers, tennis potlucks, pub nights, and weddings. Many people was introduced to the ONEC Boathouse through the weddings where they enjoyed sunsets over the Ottawa River.
Heritage recognition of the ONEC Boathouse first by the City of Ottawa in 1999 and then by the Federal Government in 2010 makes the strong case for the preservation and renovation of the Boathouse.
Activities in the ballroom were curtailed by City of Ottawa building and fire services concerns. These concerns are being addressed. Pub nights were revived in 2015 and we look forward to occupancy increases and restoring weddings and community activities for the 2017 sesquicentennial of Confederation.
ONEC is today a strong Club with a diverse membership of tennis players, rowers, and sailors as well as popular day camps, particularly for Sailing. The Club is committed to be a friendly Club focussed on fitness with strong ties to the community and to Canada’s Capital.