Five Sailing Buddies, an island and a yacht club is born

Original article written by Louise Schwartz for The Low Down to Hull & Back News for the November 4, 2009 issue. The article that appeared in the Low Down was shortened due to space constraints.

The Club's first lighthouse, a starting point for boat races. Photo courtesy
of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society. Circa early 1960s.

At one time, sailing on the Gatineau River would have been a risky business. Until 1926 this narrow river had thunderous waterfalls and rock-filled rapids. After its damming for the Gatineau Power Company's hydroelectric project, the river was broader and its current slow-flowing. This created ideal conditions for sailing, except for the erratic winds which persist today.

However, it would be another 36 years before a sailing club was formed. In September 1962, nearing the end of the sailing season, a group of five sailors met around a kitchen table in Chelsea. Gerry Byers, Ivan Herbert, Pat Evans, Allan Richens and John Winfield were all landlocked locals who moored together on a log boom in the Gleneagle Bay. In one (probably long) evening, they agreed on a plan to create what would become the Gatineau River Yacht Club.

Crew Joyce Richens with skipper Allan Richens sailing
their Enterprise with Kirk's Ferry in the background, fall
1962. Photo courtesy of Joyce Richens.

Allan Richens is the only one of the original five founders left. Still a resident of Gleneagle and an active member, he proudly led me and local photographer Mike Beedell around the club property, a few weeks before the winter close up. During our tour, he interspersed stories of the club's history. In its first days, the club house was a small white cottage at the foot of Gleneagle Road, rented from Rita Cross Mitchell. The club was close to where the sail boats were moored, and was quickly stretched to provide for the mushrooming number of members.

Then, in the fall of 1963, Frank Macintyre, a member and local businessman/realtor called with exciting news. Air Commodore Bennett had just put his island property up for sale. It was across the bay, close to the club's moorings. The property included two islands connected by a walkway, complete with cottage and two sleeping cabins. The property had originally been part of the mainland, overlooking Eaton's Chute, a landmark waterfall on the river. Since it was higher elevation than the surrounding land, the 1926 flooding of the river had turned the area into islands. A more ideal spot for a sailing club could not be found.

A quick acting club executive put forth a plan that required each member to sign for a $100 loan. Accepted by the membership, this was combined with a mortgage of $6,000 to make a $12,000 offer that was accepted by the Air Commodore.

Allan Richens at his favourite spot on the main island of the
Yacht Club, October 2009. Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

The work to adapt the property for a sailing club use was considerable. The then Gatineau Boom Company donated lumber for a walkway over to the island. Members provided the labour (and often donated the supplies). Trees and bushes were hacked out to clear an approach to the island. The cottage and cabins were converted to suit clubhouse requirements. A lighthouse built by Ed Quipp and Pat Evans (in Ed's basement) was delivered by pontoon barge to serve as the starting point for races. (In 1986 a strong windstorm uprooted about 60 trees on the island and destroyed the lighthouse. A new structure is in place today).

The second annual report provides an amusing account of the social activities for 1964. Apparently, things started out very poorly but steadily improved. The first event was a sleigh drive at Rockhurst Lodge sparsely attended by 17 members, mostly women. A tea and fashion show at the Beacon Arms Hotel in Ottawa in May suffered the same fate. No one seemed to observe that these might be somewhat unusual events for a sailing club. However, things looked up that summer with a successful CJOH Regatta, a Box Social organized by Joyce Richens, and the club's Commissioning Day. These were topped by a Hawaiin Luau (a tradition which continued for many years), where members sported colourful clothes and leis.

(left to right) Manager Nick Anning with founder Allan Richens
and member Erik Rask at the Gatineau River Yacht Club,
October 2009. Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

In 1978, a new building was designed to replace the aging and cramped clubhouse. Architect and member Jim Strutt designed an unusual structure that involved a series of 12 sided modules called rhombic dodecahedrons. Again, many members provided the labour, including Blair Erskine who coordinated the construction and Rene Gachnang who took charge of the waterworks and plumbing.

Today the club is thriving, running a popular junior program and a variety of races. This year, winners were feted at the club award night in early October. Our tour ended at a corner of the larger island where a plaque announces "Richens Point". This not only marks the favoured spot of Allan Richens, but acknowledges the club's appreciation for his founding role. No doubt members also silently thank those four other first members for their foresight and hard work in creating the Gatineau River Yacht Club.

Information for this story was obtained from Allan Richens, Joyce Richens, Volume 27 (Allan Richens) of Up the Gatineau! published by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society and the GRYC website at