One of the oldest Sports Clubs in Canada
North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club celebrates a century of play
It's the 100th anniversary of the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club. Pictured is club centennial chair and first vice-president Pat McKenzie (left) and club member Laura Gibson. PHOTO BY JASON PAYNE /PNG
In 1923, several hardy souls spent their spring and summer levelling a piece of land and seeding grass at 23rd and Lonsdale in North Vancouver. Their labour bore fruit in September with the first lawn bowling game on the green of the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club.
The club celebrates its centennial this year and it’s thriving with 260 members. This is up from 160 during the COVID pandemic, when the club was forced to move from its longtime home for the construction of a new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre.
But no one’s complaining, because two years ago the club moved to a skookum new green at 249 East 24th in North Van.
The new green is made of artificial turf, which means lawn bowlers can now play year-round. Two weeks ago, the move was completed when the City of North Vancouver handed over the keys to a new clubhouse.
This is a far cry from 1923, when the club rented land from the North Vancouver Horticultural Society. The first clubhouse was “an old shed” that was moved from 21st and Lonsdale.
“At the beginning it was only a men’s club,” said Pat McKenzie, first vice-president of the organization.
“In 1924 the women were asked to form an auxiliary to serve at the men’s functions. They said, ‘Well, we want to lawn bowl, too,’ so they formed their own club.
“The women’s club usually outnumbered the men’s in membership. In 1988 the women amalgamated with the men, and there was a couple of men who stomped off and never came back.”
This week McKenzie was hauling historic trophies out of storage for the 100th anniversary on Sept. 8. The club still has the original 1923 championship trophy for singles bowling.
“It’s only been awarded four times,” she noted.
“The deal was if you won it three times you got to take the trophy, it became yours. So D. MacPhail won it three times, and had to take it home. I suspect when he died we got it back, because his family went ‘We don’t know what to do with it, you can have it back.’”
Pat Mckenzie holds the first singles championship trophy or shield awarded at the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, which was awarded from 1923 to 1926. Don MacPhail won it in 1924, 1925 and 1926, so he got to keep the trophy and it was replaced with a new one. PHOTO BY JASON PAYNE /PNG
Lawn bowling was a big deal in the 1920s, when the local sports pages carried stories and results from tournaments. “Bowls” has a history dating to ancient Egypt, but the modern version dates to 1848, when rules were adopted in Scotland.
The first lawn bowling club in B.C. was at Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park in 1908, while the first club in the Lower Mainland was the Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, which formed in 1912. The most famous local lawn bowling green is in Stanley Park, which dates to 1917.
Watching the bowlers on a sunny summer day you feel like you’ve gone back a century. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s always a gentle, leisurely pursuit.
“It might look like that,” laughs McKenzie, “but it can be highly competitive and stressful as well.”
It also requires a lot of skill. The goal of the game is to hit a small white ball called a jack or kitty with a bigger ball, which is called a bowl.
The catch is that the bowls “have a bias to them,” and curve.
“There’s a big side with a big circle, and there’s a little side,” explains McKenzie.
“The little side has a different shape to it, so when you roll the bowl, as it slows down, it rolls inward.”
Artificial turf greens are faster than a real grass green.
“It’s a little different,” she said.
“Grass greens in the spring are heavy, a lot of people that would have trouble getting it all the way down a green. This is a great equalizer. Anybody can get a bowl to the ditch (at the end of the green) anytime.”
This helps because most lawn bowlers are older. McKenzie said it’s a great way to socialize with people, and get a little exercise.
“It’s a really fun game, easy to learn, hard to get really good at,” said McKenzie, 67.
“While it’s not a ton of cardio exercise or anything, you’re out there moving around. When I first joined I would see people in their 90s who had better balance than I did because it keeps people going.”
It does. On B.C. Day, more than 100 people bowled at the annual Stella-Jo Dean Memorial Tournament, named for a late North Van councillor who donated a trophy for the club’s 50th anniversary.
“She liked Hawaii, so we have it every B.C. Day Monday,” said McKenzie.
“Everybody dresses up Hawaiian and we have Hawaiian music, and there was a dinner for at least 100 people afterward.”
Sounds like a lot of fun: the reason people love lawn bowling.
North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club celebrates a century of play
The opportunity to celebrate turning 100 years old is a rare occurrence. Thriving for a century was certainly a cause for celebration for the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club during a recent Sunday afternoon gathering on the greens.
On April 30, the club commemorated its centennial year with a day of festivities at their new, almost-completed club house at 249 24th St. East.
Deep Cove Big Band provided music as long-time members and newcomers alike had a chance to meet and share experiences.
“In 2013, when I joined, we had the nationals here, which is a pretty big thing for us. It was an exciting time,” said John Sawyer, a member of the club who introduced his daughter to the game in the last few years.
A club that has been around for 100 years is bound to be full of family memories. Kimberly Sawyer, John’s daughter, is newer to the club, and fondly remembers her first day.
“On June 4, 2018, was what’s called National Bowls Day. And so, my father lured me here for a free hot dog and to come out and try lawn bowling,” she said.
Sunday’s celebration also featured a vintage car parade that conveyed some of the invited dignitaries around the club perimeter.
The VIP list included City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan, North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson, MLAs Bowinn Ma and Susie Chant, and many others.
“We were looking for something to do outdoors because we weren’t comfortable indoors due to COVID,” said Shirley Ko, a club member who joined last year. “We joined because a lot of the members here are really encouraging, and we just found it to be so warming and people are so nice.”
The club is a place for players of various levels of skill and interest to join, from casual players to the more competitive. Caroline Hansen, who joined last year as a novice, said her first year had many highlights.
“I won the novice division, a Vancouver and district title. And I also went to several tournaments with older skips who took me along and I also met my partner at lawn bowling last year and just had just a wonderful time all around,” said Hansen.
Len Corben, longtime sports columnist at the North Shore Outlook, was also in attendance. Although not a member, Corben’s family has deep ties to the club and to the community.
“I lived right on the street. Right facing the tennis courts and then the lawn bowling green, so I was very I was involved with the lawn bowling club because my grandfather was president in 1933,” he said.
Corben’s mother also was president of the women’s section of the club from 1966 to 1967.
Despite not being a member, Corben played at the club many times throughout the years,
“There’s a challenge that they used to run that would have different organizations, and the Outlook would submit a team and I would be on their team – they did that for several years.” Corben said.
Dignitaries were invited to speak, and awards were given to the club in recognition of their achievement by groups including Bowls BC as well as the Vancouver & District Bowls Association.
As the opening ceremonies ended, the commemorative first bowl was tossed by Buchanan, Ma, and Chant, along with North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club president Bruce Murray.
With their centennial season underway, the club is now preparing for the next 100 years of North Vancouver lawn bowling and is always ready to welcome new players.
“I got involved, I felt at home, we had lessons, and I just remained for 10 years now,” said John Sawyer. “And then my wife joined, so now we have three Sawyers.”
North Vancouver, B.C.
2023 marks the centenary and a year of public celebration for the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, proving that in an ever-changing world, the community and sport of lawn bowling remain a steady force on the North Shore.
“Few North Shore non-profits can say they’ve reached this milestone,” says Bruce Murray, NVLBC president. “We want to share this proud moment with the greater community of which we’ve been an integral part these past 100 years.”
Throughout 2023, the community is invited to several marquee events:
Feb 8, History in the Making: On this day, a century ago, the club formed officially. For public viewing, a banner and permanent story boards depicting the club’s history will be mounted around its world class greens.
April 30, Opening Day: Flag raising with public and dignitaries to celebrate the opening of the club’s 100th season.
June 3, Community Open House: An open invitation to see club facilities and bowl on National Bowls Day.
Sept 8, Club’s first game: Gala dinner, 1920’s dress, vintage vehicles and music across the decades. Throughout it all there will be plenty of bowling and opportunity for the public to come try this sport.
“It’s an easy to pick up social sport that is for everyone,” says Pat McKenzie, 1st Vice President and Centennial Chair. “It’s active, affordable, and as social or competitive as you want.”
The club offers a learn to bowl program, coaching at all levels, as well as social and competitive inter and intra club league and district-wide tournaments. There is evening, day and weekend bowling, as well as, winter social programs. In 2022, the club registered 271 members.
“As a community oriented, volunteer run sport club, it’s our members, past and present, who have kept and keep this club active and relevant,” adds Murray
Club members volunteer to support all events and programs. To date, through its Canada Day tournament, $150,000 has been raised for the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation. The club offers its greens for private and corporate fun and fundraising events, as well as, school programs.
The NVLBC is located on World Bowls certified artificial greens at 24th St East and St. Andrew’s Avenue in the City of North Vancouver. The club left its original, long-time home at 23rd and Lonsdale in 2020. With the support of the City of North Vancouver, new greens were built and a new club house is under construction.