September 29, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the Chilliwack Lawn Bowling Club! This makes the club the community’s oldest sporting organization.
For all but two years of its first century, the Club has been based at the corner of Princess Avenue and Edward Street, 525 meters directly west of Five Corners. The longevity of the CLBC reflects that of the sport of lawn bowling itself, which traces its roots back to 13th century England.
And although lawn bowling has been played since the Middle Ages, it did not formally make its appearance in Chilliwack until the early 1920s. While the game is reasonably straightforward, with minimal equipment requirements, it does require a sizable square of grass of near-golf-green quality. In the early 20th century, although Chilliwack was going on 50 years old, such a piece of dedicated and groomed real estate was not yet in place.
There was certainly much interest in the sport in Chilliwack at that time, particularly from many of the early settlers who had arrived from Ontario with strong British ties, having played the sport extensively in their youth.
It would take one of Chilliwack’s more illustrious citizens, Harry J. Barber, to launch the popular game in the community. Not only was Barber instrumental in introducing lawn bowling to Chilliwack, he also ensured that the sport had a solid basis upon which it could thrive.
Harry Barber (1875-1959) was born in Ontario, and after obtaining his degree in pharmacy, he arrived in Chilliwack in 1898, at age 23. He soon became proprietor of Barber Drugs, a well-known Chilliwack institution which operated for decades at Five Corners. Barber was active in various civic organizations, notably as president of the Chilliwack Board of Trade and chairman of the school board for eight years. He also served as mayor of Chilliwack from 1914 to 1917, and for 15 years, from 1925 to 1940, he was the MP for the Fraser Valley.
As Barber’s pharmacy business continued to grow, in 1919 he purchased one of Chilliwack’s first mansions, “Stonehurst”, on the south side of Yale Road East, between Williams Street and Victor Street. The property’s expansive grounds included gardens and a great lawn. In fact, the front lawn extended east beyond where next door’s Bon Marche building (built-in 1950) would eventually be.
Harry Barber was also a lawn bowling enthusiast, and at the urging of like-minded devotees, he decided to turn the great front lawn of his Stonehurst home into Chilliwack’s first lawn bowling green. In the spring of 1920, after he had invested some time and money in his yard, Chilliwack’s lawn bowling aficionados started playing regularly on Barber’s front lawn on Yale Road East.
At that point, Chilliwack still had no formal organized lawn bowling club, but that was remedied the following year. On September 29, 1921, at Chilliwack City Hall, the Chilliwack Lawn Bowling Club was formed, with over 100 gentlemen (representing approximately 5% of the City’s population at the time) initially expressing an interest to join.
An incorporated venture called The Chilliwack Lawn Bowling Company Limited (the Company) was also formed at the time (with an authorized capital of $10,000). The Company’s immediate mandate, in addition to raising capital, was to identify and purchase a suitable site and then construct a bowling green, thus establishing a permanent home for the CLBC, as it knew that it could not much longer continue its operations on Harry Barber’s front lawn.
The Company set the budget for constructing a top-flight bowling green at $3,500 ($51,300 in 2021 value). In short order, it obtained an option on three parcels of land on Gore Avenue. However, nothing ever became of the potential Gore Avenue location for the CLBC’s new home, and the search for an appropriate site continued.
The following year, 1922, the Company did find a well-located site for the CLBC’s new home and it initiated a somewhat complex purchase transaction. The land in question comprised four vacant lots at the southeast corner of Princess Avenue and Edward Street, directly across from the nine-year-old Chilliwack Drill Hall (aka the Armouries). Two of the lots were owned by the City of Chilliwack, while the other two belonged to Chilliwack pioneer William Knight.
On June 15, 1922, the Company bought the two lots from the City for $345 while two months later, on August 18, 1922, the two remaining lots were purchased from William Knight for $300. The CLBC’s new home would be on a 0.44-acre hexagonally shaped parcel, with frontage of 132 feet on Princess Avenue and 156 feet on Edward Street.
As the Roaring Twenties unfolded, the sport of lawn bowling in Chilliwack was becoming increasingly popular, and pending the Club’s completion of its new home, the ever-patient and accommodating Harry Barber arranged to have lights strung over his front lawn bowling green in July 1922. This move allowed CLBC members to play longer into the evenings, with late-night traffic on Yale Road East often slowing down or stopping to watch the games.
Meanwhile, construction of CLBC’s new bowling green started immediately, and by late September 1922, it was reported that work was “proceeding rapidly on the grounds”. Inevitably, Chilliwack’s rains and inclement weather soon came, and work on the Club’s new home was deferred until 1923.
During the following spring work on CLBC’s new home continued, but it was taking longer than anticipated, such are the exacting standards of a well-constructed lawn bowling green. Thus, Harry Barber continued to host the CLBC’s members, with the 1923 season unofficially starting on his great front lawn in late March, followed by an organized tournament in late April.
Finally, the CLBC’s new base of operations, at 110 Edward Street, was finished and ready for use. The property included a well-constructed 120-foot by 120-foot green, along with a small building that served as a rudimentary locker room and storage facility. With no clubhouse, for the next 12 years the CLBC’s business meetings and social events would have to be held at various venues around the city.
The first game of lawn bowling at the CLBC’s new home took place on Monday, July 2, 1923 (in pleasant weather, with a high of 75 degrees F). The formal opening ceremony for the new venue was held the following week, on July 11, 1923. There were a number of dignitaries present for the festivities, and Harry Barber spoke to the assembled crowd.
By September 1925, a portion of the lawn bowling green already required “improvement and reconditioning”, such was the growing popularity of the sport in Chilliwack. For $200, the Company retained the services of the greenskeeper at the one-year-old Chilliwack Golf Club on Fairfield Island to complete the required maintenance.
At this time, membership in the CLBC stood at 66, of which 32 were shareholders in the Company. A significant number of those who initially indicated they were prepared to join the newly formed Club back in 1921 never actually followed through on their commitment, but this would be of little consequence.
The formal opening of the 1926 season for the CLBC took place on May 12 – a hot day with the temperature reaching “90 degrees in the shade”, as a sizable crowd on hand watched 64 bowlers compete on the 8 rinks.
From its early days, the CLBC established a tradition in Chilliwack which saw the Club’s greens and the new lawn bowling season itself officially declared open by the mayor and assorted other dignitaries. After saying a few words to the assembled bowlers and spectators, the mayor would then ceremoniously deliver the first bowl of the season (similar to throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game).
At these opening day events, the Chilliwack Progress would also be on hand, reporting in detail (with accompanying photographs) the festivities of the day. This annual rite of spring in Chilliwack lasted well into the latter part of the 20th century, and has been revived in recent years.
In 1928, the Club affiliated itself with the BC Lawn Bowling Association, and thus its members were permitted to enter provincial competitions, as well as participate in inter-club competitions.
As it is today, the CLBC has always been self-owned and managed, and thus responsibility for undertaking the continuous maintenance required to keep the lawn bowling green in top shape fell to its members. As a result, by 1933 an annual custom had been instituted called the “Good Friday Lawn Rolling” in which members would attend the grounds on Good Friday to work on the green with big rollers, getting it ready for the new season’s imminent opening.
For the first 12 years of the Club’s operation, the game of lawn bowling in Chilliwack had been for gentlemen only. However, on June 8, 1933, the Chilliwack Ladies Lawn Bowling Club was formed at a well-attended meeting at City Hall. The official opening day for the Ladies Club was held at the Edward Street green the following week, on June 14, 1933.
After over a decade of operation, the Club had outgrown the basic structure on its property used for equipment storage, etc., and on May 15, 1935, a dedicated clubhouse, one storey in height, was officially opened. This new building would allow the CLBC to stage some of its social and Club events on its own property, instead of at City Hall or other venues in the City. This original building still exists today as part of a significantly expanded and upgraded structure.
One of the Club’s more prominent members during the 1940s was Wilfred Kipp. In addition to being Chilliwack’s postmaster for the 24-year-period 1925 to 1949, he was also a highly proficient lawn bowler, and he served at one time as the Club’s president. In the early part of the decade, Kipp introduced some intrigue to the local (and provincial) lawn bowling scene when he became the practitioner of a new bowl delivery technique.
The Chilliwack Progress used cryptic adjectives such as “moderne”, “stream-lined”, “new era”, and “revolutionary”, without actually disclosing what Kipp’s new technique was. In July 1943, it was announced that “scouts” from some of Vancouver’s lawn bowling clubs were heading to Chilliwack to study Kipp’s new approach to the age-old sport of lawn bowling.
Lawn bowling held a prominent position in Chilliwack’s sporting and social landscape during the 20th century. The annual Opening Day, the first bowl of the season, getting the green prepared for the season, games’ results, the Club’s annual general meeting, awards dinners, the annual Christmas dinner, etc. were all regularly and extensively covered by the Chilliwack Progress, often with photographs.
By 1958, membership in the CLBC stood at 74 bowlers, with 59 men and 15 women. Long before this time, the Club’s 1935 one-story clubhouse had been deemed inadequate for its needs, and an ambitious $3,500 expansion was completed prior to the season’s Opening Day on April 23, 1958.
The large-scale remodeling of the aging one-story structure first involved its ceiling being lowered, with the resulting space turned into a functional locker room and storeroom, with a concrete floor. This lowering of the main floor ceiling, along with adding a further 4 feet in height and 14 feet in length to the overall structure, resulted in a new second floor for the clubhouse.
This new and improved space allowed the Club the capacity to now accommodate all its social and business events. Further, a new roof was installed, along with a kitchen and ladies clubroom on the new upper floor.
By 1967, partly due to changing demographics and priorities, the Club believed that its membership, and consequently its finances, were unacceptably low. Thus, on September 27 of that year, the Club became a Society, as it was hoped that this status would allow it to attract more members, while only charging them a nominal fee. At that time, the Company was wound up.
New members of the Society were not allowed to bowl, but they could watch games, attend and vote at meetings, and participate in social functions. If Society members did want to bowl, they would have to pay additional fees for that privilege.
The impetus behind this 1968 membership drive was an attempt to raise funds to replace rotting fencing and posts (some almost 40 years old) around the Club’s property. Similarly, some light standards had deteriorated and needed replacement. However, the Club’s change in status to a “Society” did not result in the additional members and revenues that had been anticipated, and thus the new name did not last long, and soon “Club” was back in place.
The Club subsequently applied to the City of Chilliwack for a grant of financial assistance. This request was considered reasonable based on the fact that in 1968 the CLBC’s bowling green was the only one in BC that was owned and funded by its membership. All other clubs in BC were maintained by parks boards or cities. After considering the Club’s request for several months, in October 1968 the City decided to approve a grant for 1969.
The Club’s annual membership fees have been historically low by relative measures. In 1953, annual dues were set at $20 for regular bowlers and $12 for first-time novice joiners. Between 1953 and 1990 fees rose by an average of 2.5% per year, with 1990 dues set at $50 for all members, regardless of status.
In the spring of 1975, the CLBC’s clubhouse again underwent extensive renovations. Funded by a federal New Horizons grant, the top floor of the structure was extended six feet to the north. In addition to providing more space, this extension resulted in some “overhang” cover on hot or wet days for those who sat on the benches outside the first-floor locker/storage room.
Also included in the 1975 renovations were an expanded kitchen, a new heating system, and a new roof on the building. One of the goals of the renovation was to enable the clubhouse to be utilized on a year-round basis, both by the Club and the general public. It was hoped that additional revenue could be generated by renting out the clubhouse for wedding receptions, small parties, etc. All renovation work was completed in time for Opening Day of the 1975 season, which was May 24th.
Funding and membership numbers continued to be issues for the Club for the remainder of the 20th century. Accordingly it availed itself of property tax relief offered by the City, as well as applying for and receiving various grants from other entities for new equipment and clubhouse repairs.
In 2003, with the Club’s bowling green in top condition and its clubhouse well-scrubbed, it successfully hosted the lawn bowling segment of the 2003 BC Seniors Games to positive reviews.
From the outset, the CLBC instituted a number of annual competitions/tournaments among its members based on gender, experience, mixed groupings, etc. For each competition, a trophy or plaque was obtained or donated, and each year the winners’ names would be noted on the hardware in question. At either the Club’s annual general meeting or a dedicated awards dinner, winners in all categories would be recognized and duly reported in the Chilliwack Progress.
Many of these trophies are now on the second version of themselves, as eventually there was no room left to add new winners’ names to the original hardware. On the second floor of the CLBC’s clubhouse, some walls are adorned with plaques commemorating various competitions over the years, along with several full trophy cases.
Today, perhaps in response to the pandemic, the sport of lawn bowling is experiencing a resurgence in interest on a global basis, including Chilliwack. Accordingly, as it embarks on its second century, the Club is investing in its infrastructure, as evidenced by the installation of new backboards in 2021 (enabled by a federal grant) along with plans to recondition its green in time for Opening Day 2022. Further, it is undertaking a marketing campaign to attract new members (with such efforts having been largely curtailed of late due to pandemic restrictions).
The Chilliwack Lawn Bowling Club, situated at 9350 Edward Street, is Chilliwack’s oldest sports club in continuous operation – this week celebrating 100 years in the community. Unlike many other areas of old Chilliwack, the immediate surroundings of the Club have remained largely unchanged over the years, perhaps appropriately in keeping with the stability of lawn bowling as a timeless outdoor pastime appealing to all, regardless of age, gender, or location.
Author: Merlin Bunt
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