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This article first appeared in the September 11, 2012 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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GRYC sets future course after 50 years

by Lucy Scholey

On a Sunday afternoon during a long weekend, a half-dozen prams bob lazily past the Gatineau River Yacht Club (GRYC). The small flat-bottomed dinghies are racing in the Pram-ORama, one of the club's events for the 50th anniversary celebrations over Labour Day weekend, but there is hardly any wind to push the boats to the finish line.

The white sails, kids legs dangling over the edge of the dock, fluffy clouds and sounds of chattering nearby presents an idyllic image, to be sure. And it's one that has hardly changed over the club's 50 years.

The GRYC sits on a rocky island, at the end of a wooden catwalk that connects it to the mainland. On any given summer weekend, there can be upwards of 100 people swimming, jumping from a 12-foot-high rock, sailing or hanging out in the clubhouse, which manager Neil Rask describes as a communal cottage.

Pat Evans skippering the "Spray" during the fall of 1964. Photo courtesy Gatineau River Yacht Club.

"It has a certain mystery and magic to it," said the 33-year-old (who just turned that corner Sept. 2 during the GRYC's own big birthday), while sitting on the back clubhouse deck, which overlooks the Gatineau River.

"It's an absolutely special place and I really hope people can continue to enjoy their time here for generations and years to come."

If the membership continues to boom, that will likely be the case. The club did suffer a brief membership decline in the 1980s, but today it numbers almost 400 - with a growing waiting list of 40 families. Incidentally, Shona Moss, a 1992 sailing Olympian, is a notable member.

The club has come a long way since its startup in 1962. Allan Richens, the last of the original five founding members (along with Ivan Herbert, Patrick Evans, Gerry Byers and John Win-field), said they first rented a cottage on the island for the 10 or so members.

"We were just a little rinkydink place at the end of the road," said Richens.

Two years later, the cottage and two islands went up for sale, so the members bought it for $12,000.

But a growing membership forced the five founders to tear down the original building and bring in help from the late Jim Strutt, a famous Ottawa architect responsible for the design of the Canadian Nurses Association headquarters.

In 1978, the club was finished with the help of volunteers. The building materials cost $21,000.

"For 50 years, I've enjoyed the point and I've been swimming and reading," said Richens, an 81-year-old Chelsea resident.

Everyone seems to have their own story or addition to the club.

Mary and Paul Johannsen have been organizing the barbecue Wednesday nights for 11 years. When they first arrived 12 years ago, they said the weekly steaks were like hockey pucks. Since then, the couple have added more tender meat choices, a few salads and Mary Johannsen's "internationally famous" stuffed mushrooms.

Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green has enjoyed the club activities with her three sons since 1997.

She said she remembers how they won an award for being the most accident-prone, but also the most smiley.

"It's certainly an opportunity for people to come back... and for people to hear their stories and realize it's touched the lives of others," Green said, referring to the celebration weekend. "I hope we never lose sight of the original vision."

The GRYC and the Gatineau Valley Historical Society will have a joint 50th anniversary celebration Sept. 10 at the yacht club starting at 5 p.m.

There is only room for 50 people, so sign up at www.gryc.ca or www.gvhs.ca.