June 27, 2019

Water Rat 1970 SunfishSunfish racing in 1970

The Water Rat Sailing Club held its 50th Anniversary Celebration (1969-2019) on Saturday, June 22, the club will welcome Julie Dabrusin (MP for Toronto-Danforth), Paul Henderson (the club’s co-founder and former Olympian) as well as a tree planting ceremony with Paula Fletcher (Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth City Councillor).

The Water Rat Sailing Club was the first sailing club established east of Cherry Beach in the Portlands area of Toronto. Henderson, Gordon Norton and Bill Cox gathered a group of sailors from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) in 1969 and worked with the Toronto Port Authority to lease a piece of land that had served as the test site for the Leslie Spit. The hot water discharge from the nearby Hearn Generating Station allowed the keen sailors to continue racing year around.

The name of the club “Water Rat” originated from Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book “The Wind in the Willows” and the founders borrowed a line from the book for the club motto: “There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. Willow trees were planted in 1970 at a time when there was sparse vegetation in the area and have grown to create a picturesque site, used over the years as a backdrop in several Canadian TV programs and films such as Down the Road Again.

Shortly after the establishment of the Water Rat, seven additional clubs sprung up along Regatta Road, making it a hub for dinghy sailing, windsurfing and paddling in Toronto. The Water Rat Sailing Club is well known for its casual atmosphere; instead of a “commodore”, the top executive is known as the “Chief Rat” and for over 40 years, the clubhouse was the wheelhouse from a broken-down freighter ship with no electricity or running water.

The Water Rat Sailing Clubthe clubhouse in its original ‘post apocalyptic’ environment

Today

As of 2019, the Water Rat Sailing Club continues to be a vibrant, not-for-profit co-operative club with more than 200 members. The focus is to provide low-cost access to sailing and paddling with a minimal environmental footprint.

The club is proud of its connection to the Laser sailboat, a four-metre single-handed dinghy sailboat designed by Canadian Bruce Kirby, built by Ian Bruce with the sail designed by Hans Fogh. The Laser has become the Water Rat’s largest fleet with more than 75 boats. Many Water Rat members compete regularly in weekly club races as well as Canadian, U.S. and international regattas and throughout the club’s history, several Olympic and National champions have honed their sailboat racing skills at the club. In addition to the Laser, there is also a large fleet of catamarans, mono-hull sailboats, wind surfboards, kayaks and canoes.

Website: http://waterrats.ca/

On a perfect Saturday, Jordan Mitchell gave background on how the event came together and how the club has transformed from a post-apocalyptic wasteland to a beautiful green space. Also, mentioned that during the planning of the event, some incredible stories came out of the woodwork (e.g., Water Rat costumes from the early 1970s, the Poona Pot Sail/Ski Championship and the Water Rat 10 Commandments)

in Mohawk Land & Water Acknowledgement tradition Jimmy Sabourin gave thanks to the land, water, winds and rains and talked about the importance of bringing your best self

MP Julie Dabrusin, a member of the neighbouring Windsurfing Club, said she hadn't seen the Water Rat from the inside and was amazed at how beautiful the grounds were. She talked about the importance of having access to the water so close to downtown and the importance of protecting it from plastic waste.

Paul HendersonPaul Henderson back in the day

Paul Henderson - spoke for about 20 minutes on the development of the Water Rat and all of the clubs along the Portlands (similar to his Canadian Yachting article). He later cut a cake and showed the members the first membership badges for him, Gordon Norton and Bill Cox.

Paul HendersonPaul Henderson on Saturday see our previous account in March 28 CYOB http://www.canadianyachting.ca/news-and-events/current/4993-a-personal-account-the-water-rat-and-outer-harbour-sailing

Norm Lamb thanked the 50th anniversary organizing committee and talked about the importance of member-run clubs where so many people dedicate their time for the enjoyment of others

Councillor Paula Fletcher talked about the tenacity of the club members for fighting to stay put on an incredible piece of water and land and planted a silver maple tree.

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