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The Fifties

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM.

The Oakville powerboat Club history has been divided into two distinct eras - one south of Rebecca St. and the current one north of Rebecca Street. The initial concept of the Oakville Powerboat club was quite similar to the present objective, Communication amongst people with an interest in power boating. Until 1952 there was no power boating fraternity amongst those plying their motorized watercraft up and down the river. Boaters were given stony glares to each other as they passed along the river and "that didn't seem like the way to operate" said one of the founding members.

One of those members Ed Slater owned the two car garage on Lakeshore Road just west of the bridge. In that garage he met with fellow founders Art Heaven, Gord Clark, Mac McPherson, Rudy Back and Bill Hill to lay out the plans for a club. Further meetings in the garage and at people's homes set out the groundwork. The first order was finding a site for moorings and for a while the boatmen thought they would have to settle for a strip of river bank by the dump where the club stands today. Undaunted they were sufficiently enthusiastic to go along with the high scented location. The board of parks and management came to the rescue however and gave permission to use the riverbank by Busby Park separated from the dump by the foot bridge where the Rebecca Street Bridge now stands.

The 18 founding members organized work bees of 10 or 12 to construct the fence that would separate the moorings from the town softball field. The fence was said also served to block long drives ticketed for the creek. Next came the completion of a 250 foot semi floating dock which was firmly tethered to trees along the bank.

The clubhouse was still needed and that requirement was filled when Slater offered his garage for $200 with the provision that the club would find a way to transport it to a small site in the shadow of the foot bridge next to the dump.

Moving the clubhouse as reported in the local press was one of the highlights in the club history. Oakville construction man Jim Halliday provided a float truck and the moving went smoothly until they reach the old radial bridge spanning the creek at Lakeshore Road.

It was then realized that either the bridge was about 16 inches too low or the garage was that much too high. The problem was solved by digging the roadway down far enough to get the structure through.

The clubs first summer 1953 required all of the members spare time putting the floor and ceiling in the building and constructing a porch on the river and south sides. The following year a porch was added to the east side and in 1955 came the addition of the kitchen and washroom on the north side.

Docks were built at the same time constructed of telephone poles laid side-by-side and covered with planking. It was these docks, the press later reported, anchored to row of willow trees along the bank, which helped save the fleet from distraction during hurricane Hazel in the fall of 1954. Witnesses to southern Ontario's worst meteorological event reported the 20 mile an hour torrent roared down the river tearing about 30 boats from their moorings on the other side and out into the lake where they were destroyed. Among them was Halliday's cruiser the Norlaine which he kept on the west side of the creek. None of the clubs fleet was lost. The water covered Busby Park and was up to the floor of the clubhouse.

The Hurricane Hazel experience and the growing size of the fleet spurred the club in 1955 to dredge the present lagoon anchorage north of the bridge out of what was then swap. Halliday performed the job over a period of two winters at a cost of $12,000 amortized over 10 years.

THE BIRTH OF TOWARF

With so much activity and near tragedy taking place in only the first full year of the clubs existence, one would be inclined to justify the membership resting on his laurels. That would quickly change in August when a triple tragedy in Lake Ontario set the stage for formation of what is now the institution in Oakville Harbour -TOWARF The town of Oakville Water Air Rescue Force was formed after two of the town sea scouts and their leader lost their lives on the lake dramatically underlining the need for local rescue service.

Members of OPBC headed by Fred Oliver then Chief Constable of the Trafalgar Police Department formed the rescue force in August 1954. It was felt that the organization of pleasure boat owners would form armada of patrol vessels, many equipped with radios in the immediate area. It would be quite a feat for a club consisting of a dozen or so both mainly small outboard runabouts many home built.

Headquarters for the new force was set up in the old Oakville yacht club building at the foot of Navy Street and by 1955 it was acquired a 22 foot fiberglass catamaran with an 80 hp Volvo engine which gave it a top speed of 34 mph. The boat was donated by the Lions Club and went into service in the spring of 1956. Searches and patrols were organized and run from headquarters. "But it's main strengths lie in the private armada of pleasure craft of all sizes" a newspaper report said, "many of which are radio quipped which are quickly available for search duties since most OPBC members also belong to TOWARF. The fourth continues to operate today with it's latest patrol boat launched in 2000.

THE FADING FIFTIES

Following those hectic early years OPBC took on an appearance more in keeping with its original purpose. A financial crisis ensued due to the high cost of only a summer season operation and a relatively small membership in the latter part of the decade. But an assessment on the members combined with good management and an upswing in boating interest in the community put the club back on the firm footing as it entered what would later prove to be the stormy 60s.

Boat Club in Oakville - Image 1