The Rondeau Yacht Club, for more than 83 years, has earned its place as the centre of recreation, education and friendship in the Rondeau Park community.
The club was started in 1929 when Neville Knowles of London, who had been sailing his 14 foot dinghy in the bay, encouraged the old Erieau Club to race with a prospective Rondeau Club. For this, he proceeded to muster up enthusiasm among his friends to acquire boats for this purpose. This was made possible when the Weir brothers, of Rondeau, began to build a boat of unique design, well suited for the bay, which they called the Lark. An annual tradition started. The annual race became an event which everyone took quite seriously – much excitement, fierce rivalry, and of course, a cherished trophy as the reward.
In 1939, war broke out and many of the boys went into the services. At this point the club was turned over to the younger members, and this exciting era of boat races had come to an end.
Even as World War II raged on, those involved in the Yacht Club realized that continuity was necessary for the future. So in 1942, a charter was granted by the Province, which incorporated the Rondeau Yacht Club, as a non-profit organization. It was at this time that the assets of the original club were taken over by the Junior Yacht Club.
By 1955, there were 170 children receiving swimming instruction at the club. Major renovations were undertaken that year, including a new ceiling, knotty pine siding on the walls, 20 truckloads of fill for a level front lawn, a bay side sundeck, a new sidewalk and a new raft.
In 1958, the waterfront was broadened to include a sandy beach, and the 27 year old roof was replaced. The upper loft was build in the late 50’s and in 1961 a new dock was built which was funded by selling autographed planks from the old one. The flag pole was also erected that year.
By 1960, the numbers had continued to increase, in large part because as yet, there were no municipal pools in either Blenheim or Ridgetown. The annual dinner program for 1961 listed 275 children enrolled for swimming lessons and 65 enrolled for sailing lessons. A seasonal family membership cost $25.00 in 1960. It was at this time that a full time director was hired to organize and supervise the daily programs. Many new programs were initiated, including pitch baseball, ping-pong tournaments, arts and crafts, and the establishment of the Junior Board. A decade later, the fees had increased to $60.00 for a family membership and by 1974 thet had reached $85.00.
With extreme low water in the mid-60s, weed control in the bay was a major problem to the sailors. Beginning in 1965, the Rondeau Yacht Club donated funds to the Department of Lands and Forests for several years for their weed reduction program. The courses for sailboat races had to be cut like roads through the thick weeds in the shallow bay. By 1970, the government had picked up the entire cost of the weed control so the donation was no longer required.
In 1966, the club’s executive decided to purchase their own boat for sailing instruction instead of continuing to rent one.
With the Weir’s no longer around to maintain and repair the aging fleet of Larks, by the 1970’s, newer fiberglass craft such as Sunfish and Sailfish became the boats of choice.
The higher water levels that were present between 1972 – 1974 often completely surrounded the building during this time. There was talk of a break-wall, but it was not installed for several more years. High water problems continues to worsen into the 1980’s.
Hobie Cats were popular during this time and even had their own racing class from 1979 – 1985. But they proved to be difficult for younger people to control and were expensive to maintain. The the Laser became the popular boat for sailing instruction.
In 1982, a $5,000.00 Wintario grant was secured and a second one for $7,400.00 was received the following year. With the first grant, the club purchased an aluminum boat and motor, sports equipment, water safety equipment and a Hobie Cat. The second grant helped to pay for building renovations, including a new cement block outer wall which raised the building 20 centimetres. Also, a new roof was added that year. In 1986, with another government grant of $9,500.00, the steel break-wall finally became reality.
In the 1990’s, the Yacht Club appointed its first female Commodore – Marnie Van Steen. It was also during this decade that the Cottager’s Association donated the money for the club to purchase its present vinyl siding which was put on by volunteer club members.
In 2001, our application to the Trillium Foundation of Ontario resulted in a $64,000.00 grant to upgrade the club and to purchase new equipment. The renovations to the club facilities included new windows, doors, lighting, stairs to the loft and an upgraded kitchen with new appliances. The front and rear decks were added as well as the handicap ramp. With this ramp, the new wider doors to Rondeau Yacht Club was now barrier free. The new equipment consisted of 6 canoes, lifejackets, paddles, laser sails and a Club 420 sailboat for our beginner classes.
The staff, members and executive are a dedicated group of people who are committed to the values of family and community cooperation for the benefit that only caring and friendship with others of all ages can bring.
We hope you have a chance to experience all that the Rondeau Yacht Club has to offer to you and your family.