In 1911, the Globe reported that the Queen City Yacht Club was considering a motion to bar from membership “Jews, negroes and people of other undesirable nationalities.”
The motion was withdrawn after
overwhelming opposition from the club’s own members, the paper reported,
and a “spirited” Passover service on the subject from Rabbi Solomon
Jacobs at Holy Blossom Synagogue.
Read the story here.
See also: ArchivesCanada.ca
Island Yacht Club Commodore David Baskin discusses the club's history and merger overtures from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club - Kate Allen, Toronto Star, June 15, 2012
Cecil Yolles has always loved to sail Toronto’s waters.
Toronto sailing clubs have not always loved him back.
Yolles, 87, is Jewish. In the late 1940s, when he applied for membership at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) and other boating clubs around the city, he was denied without explanation.
“This wasn’t only myself. It was a great many, a lot of other Jewish kids,” says Yolles.
So in 1951, he and others founded the Island Yacht Club (IYC) as a port of call for excluded Jewish sailors — and for sailors of all creeds, colours and faiths.
Now, the Island Yacht Club is mulling a merger with the RCYC. If approved, it could become a satellite of the bigger, older club that once rejected IYC founders like Yolles.
“The history of the founding of the IYC, a long time back of course, (was that) Jewish boaters were not welcome at the RCYC,” says the Island club’s commodore, David Baskin. “But that’s a long time ago. Times have changed.”
“I don’t think race is an issue anywhere in our club. It just isn’t an issue anymore,” agrees RCYC commodore George Meadows. “We’re promoting sailors, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Baskin first floated the merger idea because his club’s membership never rebounded after a 2004 fire that gutted the clubhouse. Boat slips sit empty in their Toronto Island lagoon, and the club can’t support an active racing program.
The RCYC, also located on the Island, has no free boat slips and a robust racing program. It boasts a year-round onshore clubhouse to boot. “It’s a good fit,” says Baskin.
The two clubs have not yet even sat down together to discuss details, but any eventual amalgamation would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of voting members of each club.
Yolles says the merger is “a wonderful idea. But it’s sort of ironical, in a way.”
Newly married after World War II, Yolles decided his wife deserved better than simply tying up their boat wherever he could find a spot, like behind the Tip Top Tailors building. (Ben Dunkelman of the Tip Top Tailors family was another founding IYC member.)
So he applied to join several boating clubs. His father’s secretary was the sister of the Queen City Yacht Club’s commodore, so “I figured it shouldn’t be too hard to join there.”
He was denied. “We tried to get into several other clubs, including the RCYC, and (were) just totally turned down,” he says.
In 1911, the Globe reported that the Queen City Yacht Club was considering a motion to bar from membership “Jews, negroes and people of other undesirable nationalities.” The motion was withdrawn after overwhelming opposition from the club’s own members, the paper reported, and a “spirited” Passover service on the subject from Rabbi Solomon Jacobs at Holy Blossom Synagogue.
Few clubs would have had explicitly discriminatory bylaws, says Yolles. “It was an unspoken or tacit arrangement.”
The RCYC, Ontario’s oldest boating club, was founded in 1852 for recreational sailing “and, in the British tradition, as an unofficial auxiliary of the Royal Navy in the defence of the waters of Lake Ontario,” according to its website. The club was renamed two years later with Queen Victoria’s permission.
Those Anglo traditions continue: today, the club’s patron is Prince Philip.
A few wealthy Jewish elites did join the RCYC in its early days. Samuel King, who became Ontario’s first Jewish lawyer after he was called to the bar in 1891, was a member, according to the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Executives of the Island Yacht Club are not worried that the RCYC still harbours any anti-Semitism. “I don’t believe for a second that the RCYC is a racist organization,” says Baskin. “They have members of all religions and all colours. Whatever may be the case 60 years ago isn’t the case today.”
Says the RCYC’s Meadows: “Racial discrimination isn’t welcome at our club, and it’s not there.”
Baskin is much more concerned about protecting his club’s culture and traditions. The RCYC maintains a dress code, while the casual IYC has none.
Baskin says that if the merger goes through the Island Yacht Club’s name will probably be swallowed by the larger club. He adds that the Royal Vancouver Yacht club has acquired several smaller clubs which operate as “satellites,” but which maintain their own distinct personalities.
For Yolles, however, a more important piece of the Island Yacht Club — its spirit of inclusivity — has already won out.
From its earliest days, says Yolles, the Island club decided: “We’re not going to say, ‘We’ve been discriminated against, therefore we’re going to discriminate against others.’ No. We’ll welcome anybody. And that was it.”
“One can’t expunge the memory. We’ll maintain a respect and tradition for what happened,” says Marshall Pollock, the IYC’s vice commodore and a 40-year veteran of the board.
“The old days of when discrimination was rampant are gone, and one has to be pleased about that.”
The Island Yacht Club (IYC) was founded
in 1951 by a small group of Jewish sailing enthusiasts at a
time when Jewish applicants were denied membership to
Toronto's yacht clubs.
The founding members included Cecil
Yolles, Dr. Bernard "Bunny" Willinsky, Ben Dunkelman, John
Bussin, Eon Gilmore, Mel and Irving Gould, Mark Speyer, Norm
Kerzner, Joe Kitz, Boris Adelberg, and Bill Ackerman.
group obtained a lease from the City of Toronto for a parcel
of undeveloped land on Mugg's Island in Blockhouse Bay.
then obtained a provincial charter incorporating the Island
Yacht Club as a non-profit corporation.
A board of directors
was elected, with Bunny Willinsky as its first Commodore.In
1952, the original group had grown to approximately 35
Work parties were formed from among the members to
clear the land and a prefabricated building was purchased by
the club which served as the early clubhouse.
was donated by member Al Jacobs for electricity and two
floating docks were built.
As the clubmembership grew, more
land was acquired; the original clubhouse was expanded;
grounds were landscaped; a swimming pool, lockers, dining
room, lounge, docks, and marine railway were installed; and
a tender was purchased.
By 1956, the membership had grown to
350 with a fleet of eighty sail and power boats and the IYC
was accepted into the Lake Yacht Racing Association (LYRA),
the oldest association of its kind in North America.
the IYC hosted its first open sailing regatta for the seven
Toronto area yacht clubs and has since hosted many other
regattas including four LYRA events.
In order to accommodate
its more junior members, a Junior Sailing Club was founded
by Commodore John Zeldin in 1958, which has played a large
role in the development of the IYC.
In 1964, an adult
sailing program was instituted to teach members and
non-members racing tactics and rules.
have been an important part of the IYC's history. IYC
sailors have been members of Canada's Olympic sailing team
and have competed in the Pan-American Games, Maccabiah
Games, CORK regattas and other competitions in Canada and
the United States.
Over the years, the purpose of the IYC has
changed from a racing club that has developed champion
sailors, to a more recreational club, oriented to family and
leisurely activities. The IYC has also played a large social
role in the lives of its membership, hosting galas,
auctions, fashion shows, theme nights, bowling events,
anniversary parties, the Commodore's Ball, and other
activities during both the sailing season and off-season
The IYC has suffered from two fires in its fifty-five
year history. The first fire occurred in 1986 in the IYC's
boat yard, destroying several boats. The second fire
occurred in 2004 and destroyed the IYC's clubhouse and its
contents. A new clubhouse is currently being built and the
IYC continues to operate today, serving its members in
boating, socializing, dining, and marine services.