BIG CEDAR POINT GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
A brief history
The Big Cedar Point Golf and Country Club occupies approximately 17 ha of land southwest of Big Cedar Point. The club is noted for its scenic location, its proximity to the local summer homes, and its historical connections to the area.
In 1914, a gentleman named Lorne Jack established Tent City, a tourist attraction located at the bottom of the Sixth Line. Lorne was a professional dancer and the uncle of Art and Locke Jack – long time members of the golf club. Originally consisting of ten sleeping tents and one large kitchen and dining tent, it quickly became popular with people in the urban areas to the south.
As business increased, Lorne erected a large frame pavilion to serve as a summer hotel and dance floor. In 1923, he built a home at the bottom of the sixth line — near the location of the tee box for the ninth hole. That building became known as Castle Hall. Ward’s store was located nearby. Both buildings remain and form part of Camp Arrowhead — a summer camp established by local residents. North of Tent City were a number of seasonal residences, predominantly belonging to people from Toronto.
The trip from Toronto to Lake Simcoe in those early days was not trivial. With few roads in place, boats were a main means of transportation. Many people took the train to Lefroy. There, a local farmer met them and delivered them on his surrey to their summer homes.
The area included both Jewish and gentile residents. In keeping with cultural norms of the day, the two communities did not generally intermix socially. As a result, the gentile and Jewish communities established their own associations. In the early 1950’s, the Jewish community created Camp Arrowhead, which became a day camp for the local children as well as hosting sundown services on Friday nights.
The early gentile residents gathered for a non-denominational Sunday service on the verandas of their local cottages. As the population increased, the veranda meetings became very crowded. In response, the community founded the Big Cedar Association in 1922 and purchased approximately 3.35 acres of land at St. John SR and Maple Avenue. They built the Big Cedar Community Hall, which they continue to maintain and use today. The Men’s Golf League has also regularly used this facility to hold its annual closing banquet.
Several men in the Big Cedar Association were interested in finding a nearby place to play golf. The Houston family, which had come to Canada from Ireland in 1874, owned much of the land in the area. In 1930, members from the Big Cedar Association reached an agreement with King Houston to acquire land north of the 6th concession. The golfers formed a committee to establish the Big Cedar Point Golf and Country Club. Key people included Sam Bone, his son Fred Bone, and Clint Benston.
To finance the purchase and development of the golf course, they registered a not-for-profit company and sold shares for $100. Each member bought one share, except for the ten shares purchased by Mr. Hiembecker of the Great Lakes Shipping Company. The new golf club held its annual meetings at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
Mr. Houston and his son, King Jr., took on the task of clearing the area and developing the golf course at a price of $99 per year. By 1931, they had readied the golf course for use and the yearly stipend increased to $101.
Father and son carried on as greens keepers. King Jr. with the help of wife Ilene and his horses Charles and Nel, continued to use the horses to maintain the property and didn’t buy a tractor until 1949 — a machine that stayed in use until around 2000. King Jr. passed away in 1976 and is commemorated by a rock and plaque near the first tee box.
He also built a small clubhouse, a smaller replica of which served as a halfway house near the fourth green. The halfway house remained in place until 2016, at which time it was replaced with the current outside washroom.
The above picture dates back to the early 1950’s and has the original clubhouse in the background. A number of people in the photograph have been identified (left to right):
First row seating – Unknown, Don Wagg, Oman boy, Clint Bunston, Walter Blackman, Don Mann, Doug Bone with his dog Mike.
Second row kneeing and seating – Unknown, Murray Shepherd, unknown, unknown, Percy Bone, Charlie Mann, Fred Bone, Harry Parkinson, Clark Taylor
Third Row - Ninth person is Bert Shepherd
Back Row – first person is Herb Ewart, eigth and ninth are Ernie Rollaston and Ken Bunston
As transportation improved, the area became increasingly popular with Toronto people looking for a weekend getaway. As a result, well-known celebrities often played at the club. The club has photographs of several members of the Maple Leafs attending a tournament. Another example would be Bert Pearl and other members of the Happy Gang – a very popular CBC variety show that ran from 1937 to 1959.
The clubhouse was replaced with a larger one in the 1961. This building also doubled as a summer residence for the greens keepers. It remained in use until 2005 at which point the current clubhouse opened for operation.
Big Cedar golf prices have always been reasonable. In the early days, you could play for six cents a round as long as you stayed at the hotel. Even in 1967, annual memberships went for $100. That is equivalent to $708 in 2018 dollars, a value very close to our current membership costs!
Moving the clock forward to 1967, the membership base had evolved. Bradford people now formed much of the membership. A glance through our historical list of shareholders reveals many familiar Bradford family names. Here are a few interesting points regarding life at the Big Cedar golf club in 1967:
In 1974, the golf club, with Art Kneeshaw as President, issued an additional one hundred shares to purchase the property south of the clubhouse. This area now forms the parking lot.
In 1987, under Roy Bridge as President, work began to transform the first hole into its current dogleg format. The club obtained a federal government grant and hired John Atkinson to carry out the work with the help of several volunteers.
Moving the clock forward again to 1989, Gord Mitchell was President and the greens keeper was now Don Ferrier. They realized that it was time to modernize. Annual fees were increased to $200 to enable the club to replace aging mowing equipment. The club also applied for a liquor license, only to be informed that the course was not long enough to comply with regulations at the time. The club adjusted the lengths and could finally offer alcohol for sale — an important source of revenue. It seems though that they may have used faulty measuring equipment as the holes were later readjusted back to their original lengths! Some of that extra money was put to use upgrading the greens on the sixth and eighth holes.
Advancing to 2004, Alcona was beginning its transformation from a rural village into a modern town. The Big Cedar golf club needed to keep pace. Bert Johnson was now the club manager and greens keeper while board members looked after much of the business operations. The club decided to hire a full-time General Manager. Mike Jackson accepted the position and served there for the next fourteen years.
Under presidents Bob Walker and Murray Minshall, plans were drawn up for a new clubhouse. Construction was completed in 2005. As well as being more visually attractive and having modern conveniences, the new building provided much more room for club functions.
During Mike’s tenure, and with Michelle Crawford and Doug Warrington as presidents, the golf club continued to modernize. Computers were now used for many administrative functions and modern equipment was purchased to maintain the greens and fairways.
The club has also needed to adjust to the downturn in the golfing industry. Until the late 2000’s, it had a waiting list of people wishing to become members. With that list no longer in place, Mike introduced new marketing approaches to attract new members and pay-as-you play customers. That initiative remains a work in progress but with the explosive population growth in the Alcona area, there are many potential new members out there.
In 2018, Mike Dane was hired as Office Manager and Jeff Mackie began his term as President. The club looks forward to continuing to find creative ways to ensure its continued health.
I initially gathered information in this article from a document prepared by the late Gordon Mitchell, a former president of the Big Cedar Golf and County Club. Information about the history of the area and the photograph of the Tent City Hotel came from the archives of the Innisfil Historical Society and from the Innisfil Library.
Local long-time residents Barbara Potma and Anne Otten are members of the Big Cedar Association and provided excellent background information and photographs of the course over the years. Thanks to Judy Langstaff, also a member of the Big Cedar Association, for putting me in touch with these people.
This document remains a work in progress and one that I hope to improve upon in the future. I would welcome any details, photographs, or references that anyone may have.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Big Cedar cc 1965
L-R TBD, TBD, Dave Keon, Bob Pulford, TBD, George Armstrong, Billy Harris
TBD, TBD, Mike Wannamaker, Art Evans
Original Clubhouse – date unknown
Brief History of Big Cedar Golf and Country Club v4