The Laurentian Club

In 1904, Ottawa was sharply divided in its social structure. Entrance to a gentlemen's or sporting club was determined by social status and the nature of one's employment. Merchants and some professions were not considered gentlemanly enough to be granted entrance to more favored groups unless they qualified by family or marriage. Frustrated by the exclusion of some of their business partners from these socially exclusive clubs, Edward Bremner, Gordon Edwards, and Colonel (later Sir) Percy Sherwood formed a new men's club in which business relationships, rather than social standing, was the basis for membership.

The Laurentian Club Limited was incorporated on July 26, 1904 by the Letters Patented of the Province of Ontario. The 16 founding members who signed the charter application, several of whom were involved in the lumber trade or with the railways, represented a cross section of the business and professional men of the day. Both Fred and Jackson Booth, sons of J.R. Booth, were among the original applicants for membership.

The initial membership of the club numbered more than 100 and increased to nearly 200 over the next nine years. By 1929 the membership had increased to 300 ordinary and 65 privileged members. The Club initially acquired a $12,000 mortgage on a property located on Slater Street. When the membership exceeded the capacity of the Slater Street facility in May, 1913, the Club rented space in a building at the corner of Albert and Elgin Streets, the present site of the National Gallery.

The Great Depression was difficult for the members of the Laurentian Club, as it was for all Canadians. While their membership eroded to 114 ordinary members, the Laurentian Club's reserve of $34,000 melted until, in 1937, it completely disappeared. In 1932, the original group of shareholder members turned in their shares at "no value," and a new "non-profit" charter was obtained. It was an anxious period; some doubted the Club could survive. The Club's manager worried so copiously that the Board of Directors found the loss on the wine account to be greater than the revenue! Nevertheless, despite the challenges of finances and decreased membership, the Club stayed alive, and, by 1939, the Laurentian Club appeared to be on solid financial ground.

In 1941, the government expropriated the building at Albert and Elgin Street and the Club had to find new quarters. With the sale of the Slater Street property the Laurentian Club was able to put a down payment on the Coulson home at 233 Metcalfe Street. In 1947, six years after the Laurentian Club moved to the former Coulson home, Clayton Fitzsimmons alerted the Board that the Booth home at 252 Metcalfe Street was available. Although the Booth family had received offers, they preferred to sell the estate for a lower price to a group that would maintain the integrity of its original form. Mrs. Rowley Booth was particularly anxious that the house not deteriorate into a semi-commercial property. A deal was reached, the Coulson house sold, and the Club moved to 252 Metcalfe Street.

The Club flourished in its new home, marking its 75 anniversary in 1979. However, as the businesses of Ottawa began to undergo significant change, the membership of the Laurentian Club changed as well. In 1996, the club accumulated a $300,000 debenture, which the 320 members had to clear. It struggled financially and tried to target new members.

As the new millennium approached, it became clear that maintaining the Laurentian Club at its accustomed level was quickly becoming financially unfeasible. In June, 2000, the members passed a resolution to dissolve the Laurentian Club by the end of July, 2000. At the time of the dissolution, past president Allan MacLeod commented, "It might well be the club will remain, but in a different format depending on what happens."

Today, the Laurentian Club maintains its charter and reserves a room at the Hunt Club for Laurentian members. The Club also retains a full time administrator, a fully functioning office, and an elected president. Although the Laurentian Club does not have a facility of its own, the fellowship and camaraderie of those who occupied 252 Metcalfe Street has not diminished.