Club History

Compiled by Merv Mason (August, 1991)

When I arrived on the scene in May 1955, the club was called TRINITY GRADS TENNIS CLUB. To be a member, you had to be a  university graduate (not necessarily Trinity) and prove it.  Opening day was the third Saturday of May; closing day, the third Sunday of September. (Our present time-period was instituted during the rapid U of T growth-period of the '60's).  The "hut" was placed where our bricked lounge area now is. A croquet court was nearby. Courts 4 & 5 (with overhead lighting) were adjacent and directly south of courts 2 ~ 3. Membership was just short of 350; all players were required to be dressed in whites.  Round Robins were held once a month on Saturday.  I recall for the men that ties and socks were the usual prizes.  I do not remember what the women got!  Play ceased promptly at 10:30 PM. It was considered poor form to play on Sunday morning during church hours.

There was a Men's Team in the City League.  We were at the lowest level which was "C". Some of the teams our Club played against Included Auralee (now defunct); Bank of Commerce (on Broadway Ave; now defunct); C.N.R.'s second team; The Old Mill; Oshawa T.C.; Boulevard, Cricket & Toronto Lawn second teams. But at that time, I was a rank beginner. I did not play on those teams. Reg Cowan was President and a team member.

Actually the club dates back much earlier. It was called St. Hilda's Tennis Club.  The trophies were so designated.  F. Tseng vas the first winner for the Men's singles ln 1941; the Ladles' was won that year by Miss E. Keeley.  Our chief rival was Victoria Tennis Club at its present location across from the museum. It had 7 courts [The Vic courts were torn up in 1999 - ed.]. Reg Cowan returned to Toronto ln 1945 from the R.C.A.F. and joined our club. He soon proved to be an inspirational club organizer and motivator.

By 1958 I felt brash enough to enter the Men's Singles. In those days, beginners were not encouraged to swell the ranks of the entries. As luck would have lt, I drew Robin Logie, the top seed, ln the first round. He looked on me as a harmless unknown. After I led him 4-0 ln the first set, he changed his mind. He went on to win 6-4: 6-4 over me and eventually won the tournament. But I now felt ready for the team.

The following year our team won the "C" level of the City Men's League. Reg Cowan was my partner; me the kid ln his 20's put together with the seasoned veteran ln his late 40's. In those days, the top team played off with the bottom team of the next level up to determine what would happen. So we played off with Bank of Commerce, the bottom "B" team. Rain interrupted the match on their courts. We had won 2 matches, lost 1, and Reg and I were into set 3 of our match. We came back a couple of days later and won that set. I still recall that as I was getting ready to reach a key overhead, Reg called out "Take your time, my boy."  With the 3-1 win, we advanced to Level "B" where we stayed until the late '60's when the League greatly expanded to its present format of many levels. We also belonged to the Inter-Church League which later became the Metro League and finally disbanded. The few surviving teams joined The Community League, which still exists of course. Inter-Church teams Included St. Pauls; St. Clemens; St. Timothy's and Vic. St. Timothy's courts were particularly trying. You had to play doubles on singles courts.

In 1960, our Club was dealt a severe blow when Trinity College announced construction would lamentably commence so as to enlarge St. Hilda's Residence. We lost courts four and five that summer. I remember vividly that during the men's singles I had to endure piles of manure behind court 1 where I was playing Norm Brown, the eventual Club Champion that year. It was well over 90 degrees and the manure was dumped there to fertilize the new lawns being landscaped into place. Bees swarmed everywhere! Norm coped with it all much better than me.  He won going away 9-7, 6-3. But I did win my first Cup that year. I was astute enough to ask the Ladies Singles Champ Marion Franklin to pair with me ln the Mixed Doubles.

It was evident that in order to survive, our Club had to drop its elitist image. By 1962 we were down to 65 members. Multitudes of old members scrambled off ln search of new clubs to join where the facilities were better.  So we changed our name to St. George Tennis Club and opened it up to all comers. Immediately the membership ballooned up again.  And many excellent new players joined!  Among them were two Australians, Ken Moore (now pro at York Racquets) And Ken Cheesman (now pro at Mayfair). However, you will not see their names on the Men's Singles trophy. They would never enter, feeling lt wasn't fair to the rest of us! Can you imagine such an attitude today?

Tennis could be gruelling in those days. The balls were white, there were no windscreens, sunglasses were poorly constructed, and long sets were required. (In 1967 I played a 4-hour 5-set final at Rosedale T.C. which I somehow won. Another time I lost a match 6-4, 9-11, 6-3. It took well over 3 hours). Indeed in 1970 ln the course of winning my first Trinity singles, I played a 3-hour second round and a 3-hour final. But by 1972, we were iato tiebreakers. In the second round, I beat a chap from New England 7-6 ln the third set.  Being new to the experience, I found it plenty nerve-wracking.  After that, I did not lose a set, beating my doubles partner Ralf O'Connor 6-4, 6-0 ln the finals. In those days, we called foot faults, had not only an umpire, but lines persons as well. It was a real big deal!

In 1966, Reg Cowan stepped down as President, a post he had held for almost 20 years. He was made Lifetime Honorary President and The Reg Cowan Mixed Doubles Tournament was created. By happenstance that year, I got by lot Linda Drew, the top woman-player. It was embarrassing to win the first year's competition by such a stroke of fortune. Reg continued to be active, and as late as 1979, minutes of Club executive meetings reflected this. (Reg had a stroke in 1980 and died in January 1981. Many, many of us attended his funeral. He was one of a kind).

The social events of 25 years ago were different than those of today. In that era, we used to organize outings to The Palisades Golf & Country Club (which I owned); the Halton Country Club; U of T's camp ln Caledon; Alf Doherty's tennis club ln Lindsay; and various motor rallies. It was great fun!

I became team captain ln the mid-70's and we made a determined effort to excel. In two years we moved up from B1 level through A2 to A1, the top City League men's doubles level.  We barely survived there and the next captain after me could not resist padding the team with imports. The membership rank-and-file rebelled and our executive forcibly requested that our club be returned to the B1 level. Many of the good players either departed or stayed and played with other teams.  In due course our Club sank further back to B2 where it remained until last year. Now again lt seems we are on the move, going through two levels again ln two years so that we will be playing at the A2 level ln 1992.

I am often asked who were the top players of the past 35 years. That is impossible to answer. The style and support-technology of the game have changed immensely.  Most of us ln '60's played a finesse type of game, the exception being the power player. Today the reverse has happened. I will mention a few exceptional players far superior to myself and who stayed more than one year with us. They are all gone now, but names like Henry Low, Ernie Vahl, Ken Moore, and Hani Ayoub come to mind. Each had his own special style  and they were awesome.  Women such as Joan Stirling, Linda Drew and Sally Hayes (later Damstra) must be Included.  And of course our club of 1991 is probably deeper ln talent on the mens' side than lt has ever been before.

Due to the politics of relating to the Trinity College administration, our Club went through a final name-change about 15 years ago when it was renamed to Trinity College Tennis Club, its present title. And before I close, I wish to acknowledge a few good friends who have been in the Club almost as long as me. They include John Lam, Gwen Brooks, Christine Johnson, Campbell Parsons, Samiha Abdel Sayed, Jorg Bentz, Anna Caton, and Stephen Watkins.  Where have the countless others gone? I often wish I knew.

— Merv Mason, 1991

Merv has become a club treasure in his own right, and in 1999 we were able to acknowledge what he's brought to the club in celebrating his 70th birthday.  Tributes and gifts flowed and Jim Blokland, club vice president, prepared a five-minute video documenting Merv's tennis career.  As court steward he continues to be the centre of the the vibrant social scene at Trinity College Tennis Club.

— Jim Lebans, 2000

Merv celebrated his 50th year as a member of Trinity College Tennis Club in 2005, and was suitably feted at our year-end annual dinner. Presentations included an engraved pen and a vintage copy of Sports Illustrated (circa 1955), which our Social Coordinator, Tracey Epps discovered on eBay. Turns out the player on the cover, Tony Trabert, was one of the reasons Merv first picked up a racquet! With unfailing energy and humour, Merv continues on as court steward -- matching up players and ensuring the continued success and collegial atmosphere of the club.

— Margaret Hoffman, 2005

When Merv Mason announced his retirement as full-time club steward at the end of the 2008 season, members were incredulous. After all, Merv had spent 54 summers playing on the courts and served as court steward for almost half of them — 24 in total. No one could remember the club without him. Merv's many roles over the years have included club historian, social convener, tennis champ, counsellor, and friend to hundreds of members. To express its appreciation, the club presented Merv with a 12 kt gold shoe tag engraved with #1 at the AGM in September 2008. In addition, he was given a certificate granting him a free lifetime club membership, and the first spot on the tagboard will always have his name on it. Happily for the club, Merv has agreed to continue his court steward duties on a part-time basis, so you can find him at the courts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and running the occasional round robin during the week. On these days things seem to be "back to normal."

— Linda Nye, 2011

A tribute to Merv
(takes a few minutes to download)