Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club begins restoration

In the early 1900s, the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club was located in the Glebe, on the site of the present-day St. James Tennis Club. In this photo, taken just before the First World War, Glebe St. James United Church is visible in the background.

By Claire Brodie

The tennis club on the banks of the Rideau River serves the whole of Ottawa but more particularly nearby neighbourhoods, including the Glebe. Indeed, before the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) moved to Old Ottawa South, it operated in the Glebe for a full two decades, from 1902 to 1922. It still draws a large part of its membership from this neighbourhood.

Ninety-eight winters have hammered the building, not to mention annual floods into the 1970s. As the building approaches its centennial, it is woefully in need of restoration.

Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club in the 1930s

Founded in downtown Ottawa in 1881, the club was pushed steadily south as the city expanded. For four years, it rented land on Patterson at the canal. When that land was sold for housing, it moved to Third Avenue west of Lyon, where the St. James Tennis Club sits today. A clubhouse was built before urban pressures once again drove the club south, this time to rural land on the banks of the Rideau River. People in the Glebe had to take bikes or a streetcar to play tennis.

Having abandoned its clubhouse in the Glebe, the club had to start over. The clubhouse on Cameron Avenue was designed by an important local architect, J. A. Ewart, and is a rare survivor from the grand old era of sporting clubs. In 2019, the City of Ottawa awarded heritage designation to the clubhouse, recognizing it as a cultural and architectural landmark in the city.

Nearly a century has passed since the new clubhouse opened in 1923. Ninety-eight winters have hammered the building, not to mention annual floods into the 1970s. As the building approaches its centennial, it is woefully in need of restoration. The club has been planning and raising funds for that purpose for more than 10 years now.

This fall, restoration and renewal of the OTLBC clubhouse finally started. Construction was launched at the beginning of September, and the first phase of an ambitious restoration plan is now underway. Nine months from now, next April, the first part of a dream will have become reality.

The club has raised $1 million towards its $1.5-million goal for the first phase of the restoration plan. Phase I will essentially stabilize the building and renew a large part of the ground floor. Fund-raising will continue and work will extend to the first storey when more money is available. Ultimately, the result will be a winterized building open to the public.

This project is about more than shoring up the foundations and updating mechanical and electrical systems; it is about strengthening the club’s relationship with the Ottawa community. OTLBC is proud of the contribution it is making to maintaining the historic centre of Ottawa, as the preserver of five acres of green space, as the steward of a century-old clubhouse and as the manager of a community venue.

OTLBC will always continue to deliver its core mandate of offering tennis, swimming and clubhouse facilities to its members. With the renewed clubhouse, however, it will also be able to open its doors more widely to the surrounding neighbourhoods with programs to address physical and mental health as well as culture. New activities might include yoga, stretching workshops, meditation, book launches, lectures and art shows, not to mention an increasing number of corporate events, wedding receptions and anniversary parties. The philosophy for the restoration stands on two pillars: first, preserving what is valuable from the past; second, changing the building to make it more functional and more inclusive in the future.

In so many ways, this project exemplifies community engagement and volunteerism. Current and past members of three different boards of directors have donated countless hours of time and expertise. Other members of the Ottawa community – historians, writers, designers, specialty businesses and more – have been inspired to donate a wide range of in-kind services to help make the dream come true.

If you have any questions about this century-old architectural landmark in Ottawa or would like to offer your support, please visit www.otlbc.com/donate or contact Maria Pierre-Noel at maria@otlbc.com.

Claire Brodie is event and customer service manager at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club.

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