When I first went up to the Collingwood area to ski as a girlfriend to my future husband, little did I realize that I would one day teach skiing part time in Grey Country, wherein lies the Town of Blue Mountains. I had no idea there was even a harbour in Thornbury, much less a yacht club, until I was invited out to crew on a C&C 27, Sassy J in a ladies’ race with a fellow ski instructor, Tobyn Londos. Needless to say we had a fabulous time; Tobyn accomplished her first race with an all-female crew, and I met another friend, who turned out, at the time, to be the commodore of the Thornbury Yacht Club (TYC), Paul Sandiford. Paul and his wife, Leeanne, own a Dufour 35 called Mumm’s. They fell in love with TYC after a cruise to Christian Island and joined in 1999.
This area of Canada was once occupied by the Wendat natives (named the Huron by the French) and then later acquired by the British. The township of Thornbury was incorporated in 1833. The area’s natural resources of forest, fish, and minerals attracted commerce and in 1955 a milling operation was the town’s first business. The town’s historians claim that the name Thornbury came from the berries that grew along the Georgian Bay shoreline, but others feel that it was named after the Thornburys from England who settled there. By the 1880s the apple packing industry, for which the town is still famous, was in full swing. Move to modern times and the town of Thornbury was amalgamated with the Township of Collingwood to become the Town of Blue Mountains January 1, 2001.

By the 1980s, more people who only used to come north from Toronto to ski, realized that Thornbury, the jewel-in-the-crown of the Southern Georgian Bay area, had much to offer in the summertime, with its pristine waters, uncrowded beaches, and beautiful Niagara Escarpment scenery. In 1982 there was no road to the outer harbour, located at the south end of Nottawasaga Bay between Collingwood and Meaford at the mouth of the Beaver River, and boats were all on swing moorings. A local condominium owner, Altona Holdings, was to guide the installation of the marina facilities with 80 berths. When this happened, as recounted in Remembering When, “The fish shed club house, used by the Reef Boat Club, built in 1967, had to come down.” “Now the club would be homeless and neither the town nor the developer would provide the club with a building or space near the harbour. At the annual meeting, held in April 1983, a majority of the Reef Club members voted to move the club to a new location in Meaford. In June, 14 local boaters who wanted to stay based in Thornbury, met together to form a new boat club to be known as the Thornbury Yacht Club.” By August, the club had 65 members and had also joined OSA and CYA. Erling Morris, the first commodore, explained that, “The yacht club is a group of boaters and non-boaters whose primary objective is to promote safe boating, good seamanship and good sportsmanship among all boaters and those with a genuine interest in boating.”

Unfortunately, smooth sailing for the developer was not to be, and Altona declared bankruptcy that winter and disappeared, leaving control of the harbour to the town, which has operated the marina ever since. The TYC became a yacht club within the marina, with its members renting close to half the slips in the harbour from the town.

Under Commodore Clare Norris, the sailing school took hold in 1993 with the acquisition of Solitaire, a 24ft. Shark to be used as an instruction boat. The club members even agreed to billet a sailing instructor and provide them with a bicycle to get to the harbour! The program ran for ten years and then Sail Georgian Bay, in the Meaford Harbour, took over most of the students. Solitaire was then used as a committee boat for many years before its retirement in 2007.

There have been many female Bridge members, as well as three female commodores at this little club. Meetings back then were held in the home of the commodore around the kitchen table with a small, close-knit group of supportive bridge members. Commodore Donna Atkinson (1994-1995) has a vivid memory from her first Sailpast dealing with regalia that was made for men. She had to stuff paper into her commodore’s hat, as it kept falling into her eyes. Donna also recalls, “Being summoned to the harbour, along with other local TYC members, when a vicious storm blew through the area and the group spent the rest of the night on heaving docks, retying lines by flashlight.”

Every year the TYC hosts a Regatta weekend. Current Commodore Carla Nicolson laughed as she recounted one particular regatta where, “The director of racing had organized a BBQ with a pig roast. They had sold out the event and it was pouring rain. 100 people sent in reservations and 97 people showed up in full rain gear with umbrellas. Who else but sailors would sit out on picnic tables eating at a BBQ in the pouring rain?” After this event, the idea of building a pavilion really took root. At a General Meeting held in January 2012, there was overwhelming support from the members to proceed with building a pavilion over an old concrete pier with wooden decking. The building permit was secured by April 2012 and the first BBQ under the pavilion was held on June 23rd on Regatta weekend. Now that is the way to organize things in a small town.

Besides the annual Regatta weekend, there are spring and fall weekend racing series and a spring mid-week Wednesday night race series. A few signature races include the Founders Cup, Mighty Mary Race (women only), John Zsolt single handed race, and the Meaburywood. This is where the three area yacht clubs (Meaford, Thornbury and Collingwood) all join together and take turns organizing the BBQ after the race out of TYC for the Clare Norris Trophy. One notable racer from TYC is Pete Mather, who became the first Canadian to win the Chicago Mackinac Race on its 98th anniversary.

Part of the camaraderie of a yacht club is the people who volunteer their time to make things happen. One of those people is none other than Bill Copeland, a long time member and owner of Andrea II, an Alberg 37. He is affectionately known as Mr. Rules and Regulations and is the  aficionado of protocol and tradition at the club. He is a former actor with a booming voice who commands attention to all those who are around him and is often asked to do the grace at TYC events. He knows the by-laws inside out and keeps the bridge and officers on their toes.

Another big part of the TYC lifestyle is cruising in Southern Georgian Bay to Christian Island, the North Channel, the Benjamins, Heywood Island, or Killarney. Anywhere you go in the North Channel, you will run into someone from Thornbury. The North Channel Cruise rendezvous is always the first Wednesday in August. You should plan on two to three days to get to your destination with holidays happening either before or after the rendezvous. “It’s a very eclectic group of people and fun things just happen,” says PC Sandiford. His sentiments were echoed by current Commodore Nicolson who noted that, “We have two formal rendezvous each year, one to Christian and one to the North Channel where we get upwards of 20 boats with captains, crew, kids, friends, and dogs. Great weather last Labour Day created an impromptu rendezvous at Christian Island. Everyone motored over and tied up their inflatable dinghy to one of the power boats and passed their appetizers. I think there were ten or twelve dinghies.” Carla and her husband Doug own a Tartan 3700 called Guardian II and they joined TYC in 2000.

Many of the members live in town and nearby communities; others live on their boats as a cottage. The club enjoys its home base in Thornbury which has over 15 local restaurants, a library, grocery store, liquor store, laundromat, and of course, a Tim Horton’s. Annual meetings are held in the library or the community centre. After a day of sailing, or a day without wind, the members often go boat hopping, bringing their beverage of choice to share with other members, or gather under the pavilion to share the stories of the day and to enjoy a pot luck meal.

As this club moves forward facing challenges of low water levels, dwindling town resources, and increasingly stringent government regulations, one thing remains constant. They are a group of committed people who give of their time so that everyone may enjoy the love of the water, good times, and good friends. For an initiation of $350 and annual fees of $120 this can all be yours. I’m like’n it already. A social and cruising boating club that has a ski day. …perfect! Want more information? Just visit their website or e-mail them This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By Katherine Stone

Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - Race Boats at the Thornbury Yacht Club
Photo 2 - Looking down the docks at the Pavillion, new to the club in 2012
Photo 3 - Great Georgian Bay group photo!
Photo 4 - Regatta weekend potluck – yum!