By KAILEY ROBERTSON
Can you envision this? You are swinging from a hammock, watching the sunset over the calm, rolling waves. Silhouettes of children cast long shadows as they stand back, admiring their sandcastles on the sandy beach.
Adult laughter echoes from a distance as grown-ups share jokes and stories with each other. This is a place where families and friends gather. A community within our community, this is a place where people of all ages gather for sport and relaxation.
This is the Sarnia Riding Club.
Without understanding the history of the Sarnia Riding Club, one might ask why this recreation centre is called a “riding” club.
In 1908, more than 20 horseback riding enthusiasts made a plan to create a place where riders could spend time not only with their favourite animals, but socializing with friends.
It would be a place of learning, training, and leisure.
But first they needed a piece of property to build their dream.
Fortunately, the perfect location became available to them on November 19, 1908, when a local physician, Dr. Clement was about to sell his property and cottage on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron, just outside the limits of Sarnia, then known as Port Sarnia.
The purchase was made, so the riding club had a place to call home.
After seven months of extensive renovations, the cottage had been turned into a club, featuring 16 horse stalls, a harness room, along with many tracks and trails for the riders.
The doors were officially opened to the public on January 4, 1909. Immediately, the club was buzzing with life with approximately 40 people coming to visit on that opening day, some from as far as Toronto.
In February, a tea was held for new members and a name—Altamount—was chosen for the club.
It quickly became a very popular and important part of the social life of members.
Tea was often served in the afternoon by the ladies and the beach became increasingly popular as a gathering place, even as the trails were rarely empty.
In 1922, Altamount a country club. It became increasingly popular and steadily gained more members. It was definitely “the bee’s knees”!
During the 1930s and 1940s, even when many of Altamount's members went off to fight in World War II, the club's popularity did not wane, even though things were definitely not the same without the men. Even so, when the men returned, the club was once again full of happy, excited guests.
With the urbanization of Sarnia, now a city, this piece of property didn’t seem to be the right place to keep horses, which were slowly sold off to farms. The name Altamount slowly drifted away over the years and this popular country club was renamed “The Sarnia Riding Club” in memory of what it once was. It continued to be a highly fashionable and elite club, but one night in 1950, disaster struck.
It was January 28, 1950, during one of Imperial Oil’s annual parties, that a fire broke out in the clubhouse. Thankfully, nobody was harmed, but the building itself burned to the ground, with nothing remaining but ash and rubble.
An insurance claim of $40,000 and help from private donors allowed the club to be fully rebuilt.
Two tennis courts, a shuffle board court and a play area for children were all added to the new riding club, and it was bigger and better than ever. New members were suddenly flocking in as previous members signed up again to join the new Sarnia Riding Club.
The club continued to thrive for the next decade and in 1963, the first ground was turned over to construct a new pool for the members. Eventually more tennis courts were added and squash courts as well.
In 1978, one special, 12-year-old boy arrived at the Sarnia Riding Club’s junior squash practices. Training hard and eventually working his way up the squash ranks, Gary Waite became a three-time world doubles champion for squash.
Things have evolved for the riding club over the years, but one thing remains constant—an abundance of things available to its members.
Among the features: a fitness centre with squash courts, fitness machines, and saunas. Squash lessons are offered for people of all ages and levels of experience. Yoga classes are held on a weekly basis.
During the summer, an in-ground pool with diving boards and slide are a big hit for members of all ages and swimming and diving lessons are offered by certified lifeguards.
Now offering six tennis courts, the Sarnia Riding Club holds lessons for all ages, league tennis, and leisure time for family and friends to get outdoors and smack that little green ball around.
Boasting one of the area’s most beautiful beaches, the Sarnia Riding Club is one of the most serene places to kick back and relax next to Lake Huron.
For adults, social outings include wine tastings, barbeques, and entertainment featuring some of the area’s favourite musicians.
And, of course, weddings.
“We have 37 booked for this summer,” notes Kelly Steeves, the club's hard-working general manager. Picturesque grounds perfect for wedding photography and other social celebrations and day camps held for children ages 4-12 are all part of not only a tradition but a great atmosphere.
“They have a lot of fun,” says Steeves. “They swim and play tennis in the morning, and in the afternoon, they participate in crafts, music, drama, and a lot of games.”
To continue all of these great memory-making moments, fund raising continues to be an important part of the club's renewal process. Those activities include silent auctions held to raise money for renovations and improvements.
“Summer will be here before we know it,” says Steeves, who says the cub is taking applications for seasonal employees. "We need people to help at the pool, work in the café, and run the day camps. High school volunteers and co-op students are always welcome. And we would gladly welcome community volunteers.”
The Sarnia Riding Club can also be rented out by members and non-members for social gatherings, with meetings, weddings, and parties of any kind often organized using the venue. One of Sarnia’s finest cuisines can be found at the Sarnia Riding Club, as events are catered by St. Aubin’s.
Future upgrades and updating is planned to keep the Sarnia Riding Club the perfect setting for family and friends to gather, and even school trips.
The key to that success, says Steeves, are not only the many employees and volunteers but the members themselves.
And the doors are always open for more.
From 1908 until the present day, the Sarnia Riding Club has been a much loved and visited club, playing a pivotal role in the community. Creating memories and healthy lifestyles for hundreds and will continue to do so for many more years to come.
Whether someone is looking for a special place to celebrate, socialize, or just relax by the beach with a good book while sipping on a cool beverage from the bar, the Sarnia Riding Club has it all, hammock included.