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Highland Yacht Club

Lake Ontario’s Hidden Jewel of a Yacht Club

By Katherine Stone

The formation of Glacial Lake Iroquois, at the end of the last ice age, was to have a lasting effect on the boating activity on Lake Ontario. Many years ago, as the lake eroded, it left geological records through alluvial deposits from the Bluffs, which then settled westward to form the Toronto Islands. More recently, the erosion rate picked up quickly in the 1940s when cottages were being built along the bluffs to capitalize on the breathtaking, enticing waterfront view of this “geological wonder” and a unique feature in North America. The result of this consistent and dramatic erosion in the Scarborough Bluffs, has created an impressive portion aptly named Cathedral Bluffs.  The Bluffs were first named by Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, in 1793. She wrote in her diary, “The [eastern] shore is extremely bold, and has the appearance of chalk cliffs, but I believe they are only white sand. They appeared so well that we talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough.” It runs for 15 kilometres from the Eastern Beaches to West Hill, and soars up to 90 metres at its highest point. A stylized version of The Bluffs appeared prominently on the flag of the former City of Scarborough before it was amalgamated into the City of Toronto. Nestled in the middle and protected on all sides you will find one of the friendliest places on Lake Ontario, Highland Yacht Club.

The City of Toronto put an ad out, some 40 years ago to encourage people to come together to form and build a boating community at the base of these Bluffs. What emerged were four clubs (Cathedral YC, Bluffers Park YC, Scarborough SC, and Highland YC) and Bluffer’s Park Marina. The quiet, secluded area has beautiful walking trails that take you through naturalized areas in-between the cliffs and the park, within view of a clean, stunning, sandy beach. Chris Reynolds, the current Vice-Commodore and a member for 6 years points out that, “There are still members at our club from Day one, who regard HYC as their piece of paradise, as they worked hard to build it.  They drove the pilings for the docks, poured the foundation for the clubhouse, and set the stage for this unique, incredibly friendly club.”

As they approach their 35th year, which begins November 1, 2014, it offers a time to reflect on the origins of the club, their philosophy, good times, and great friends that have come together to form this unique gathering spot and enjoy the lake. By its constitution, the club is restricted to 132 equal shares for its passionate members, as there are only 132 fixed finger docks. There is presently a waiting list, however, it moves quickly, so don’t despair if you are interested in this life style.  The Committee of Management includes the Commodore and his team who take care of the general management of HYC. Working in the background, to safeguard the principles and traditions of the club, a Review Committee was set up to ensure that all proposals and change to the Bylaws and Constitution are met and truly reflect the club’s culture.

As Commodore, Tod Whitfield points out, “We are a group of like-minded people who have come together to help one another. Being a self-help club, members are required to do their fair share of work to keep the club ship shape. Hours are set at the beginning of the year and are determined by the projects voted in by the members. Normally, that number is in the range of 20 hours for each member. The founding members of Highland YC wanted their club to be an affordable option dedicated to recreational boating. They were very careful to put in place a constitution that would ensure that this continued. I spoke to some of the old timers and they advised me that although there were a lot of Scotsmen who founded the club, the name Highland did not originate from the Highlands of Scotland, rather that the name comes from the Scarborough Bluffs being the highlands.”

One of the highlights of the summer is the annual Goodwill Day, where members open up their club, their boats, and their hearts to residents of New Leaf. This organization provides a home, counselling and life skill training to people that have difficulty coping with the pressure of society. Members dress up as clowns, the local fire and police departments show off their equipment, boats are dressed, a band plays, great food cooks on the BBQs, and the cherished day of sailing on members’ boats brings excitement from the moment they board the yachts. Being part of HYC is means being part of the entire community to help others.

The members keep a sharp eye on the depth of the harbor at the gap, to help maintain the current 8.5 foot depth. Member boats are restricted to 34 feet in length and 11 feet beam, however, they can accommodate up to ten larger visiting yachts on the ends of all docks, where most visitors come to use reciprocal privileges year after year. With 20 and 30 amp power, a mast crane, pump-out facilities, fuel dock, plenty of BBQs, workshop and tools, washrooms, showers, a self-serve full kitchen, and large picnic area where numerous impromptu gatherings take place. In fact, to keep up with the Galley Guys, member Jim shared with us the best ever salsa recipe often demolished at these dock picnic gatherings; where close to 25% of the members spend overnight weekends on their boats.

Jim’s Salsa
6 plum tomatoes seeded and diced       
½ medium red onion diced
1 med jalapeno pepper diced               
¼ cup cilantro chopped
Juice of one lime

Combine everything together and let stand for an hour (or not). Serve with toasted wonton wraps or corn chips. For wonton warps, buy either square or round, brush very lightly with oil. Mold in a tart tin, bake at 350 for 7 minutes, until golden and crispy.

If you like cruising or racing, they have them both! Starting in early May, there are Spinnaker, Whitesail, and Double Handed series that run through the end of September. Although there is no Learn-to- Sail program at the club, there is a club Laser to borrow and mess about in, a women’s sailing club within HYC that encourages one another, casual racing nights for first timers, and a night for the serious racers. The social committee provides light bar food after racing and there are 3 other restaurants in the basin where you are able to find heartier, epicurean meals. The fun certainly doesn’t stop when the snow covers the ground, as members continue to come down to the club every Wednesday night to enjoy cards, darts, and all manner of activities, except sailing!

So come on down and check them out for what the members consider to be the best, friendliest, hidden jewel of a yacht club on Lake Ontario, with scenery reminiscent of Scarborough, England, that just happens to be economical as well!

Highland Yacht Club; 5 Bluffers Park Road; Scarborough, Ontario  M1M 3W3; 416-267-0224 - http://www.highlandyachtclub.ca.

Photos (Credits Debby Nichols)

Photo 1:  The serene harbour is nestled in the shadows of the Scarborough Bluffs.
Photo 2:  The HYC main entrance features a wrap-around upper deck and welcoming member-tended gardens.
Photo 3:  Power and sail boats mutually exist in the harbor – surrounded by beautiful spring flowers.
Photo 4:  Highland Yacht Club Recipe - Jim's Salsa