by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
The course along Roblin Boulevard and Haney Street built by the Winnipeg Golf Club (WGC) was taken over by the Alcrest Golf Club, which at the time only had about 10 members, the remnant of those who didn’t transfer to the Elmhurst links at Birds Hill. Initially, the golf club struggled due to a small membership base which varied from as low as 60 and as high as 140 in subsequent years.
The membership at Alcrest took out a $3,000 loan in 1925 to improve the course and club house. On July 7, 1934, the mortgage was burned in a special ceremony, complete with a round of novelty golf and a banquet to commemorate the payment of the bank loan.
“Since taking the loan the men concerned at Alcrest have spent on the average three thousand each year on improvements to the course,” reported the Winnipeg Free Press on July 7, 1934. The same newspaper reported on May 30, 1935, that the membership had spent from $15,000 to $20,000 over the years to improve the course and its amenities.
The good times were short-lived as the Alcrest Golf Club became embroiled in squabbles with the Rural Municipality of Charleswood and local residents over who owned what property, as well as who was entitled to use Hilton Street, which today no longer exists and was roughly underneath where a span of the Charleswood Bridge and Parkway now stands on the south side of the Assiniboine River. The club executive was of the opinion that Hilton Street, which ran through the middle of the golf course, was solely reserved for golfers, which neighbouring homeowners deeply resented.
The integration of the street into the golf course, “where the Alcrest golf club has driving tees, bunkers and other accessories for the playing of golf,” was reported in the March 20, 1936, Free Press.
An unnamed Charleswood resident wrote to the Free Press on May 30, 1935 (published June 8), alleging that the RM of Charleswood was in collusion with the golf club to prevent local residents from using Hilton.
“There has been an insistent demand by residents and property holders adjoining Hilton street for the past three or more years all to no avail,” wrote the “nearby” resident, “as the council, while not openly giving the golf club permission to use the street, have declined to interfere with them, and have refused to make the streets available for the use of residents, and the matter has been a source of constant strife between the residents, the golf club and the council of the municipality ...”
The letter writer claimed the course was on a small portion of the site originally owned by the WGC, alleging the Alcrest Golf Club owned just three-fifths of the land containing the golf course.
On May 30, 1935, the Free Press reported one lot jutting onto the course was never owned by the club, but by W. Kennedy, an East Kildonan resident, who erected a seedy-looking shack across the first hole fairway complete with wire entanglements, effectively preventing members from using the hole. Signs proclaimed the shack was on private property and “trespassers will be prosecuted.”
The golf club had offered Kennedy what it termed a reasonable price for the land from $50 to $100, but he refused the offer.
In a telephone interview with the Free Press, Kennedy denied having any trouble with the Alcrest Golf Club. As well, Kennedy claimed he had not received an offer to purchase from the club and intended to erect a building on the lot.
“So Alcrest still enjoys its hazard, and Mr. Kennedy still enjoys his ownership of a lot on the course and ambitious dreams of a great building,” ended the article.
Ernest Chiswell, who’s residence was adjacent to the sixth hole at Alcrest, obtained a “long-standing”court injunction to prevent members from playing at the Alcrest course. His feud with the golf club began in 1932 when golf balls rained down on his property as a result of hooks, slices or duffed strokes. He warned the club to keep golfers wanting to retrieve their poorly played balls off his property, as well as off the property of next-door neighbour Mr. Peterson where he was the caretaker.
During his 1936 court appearance to obtain the injunction, Chiswell said that the club had no right to use Hilton Street as part of the course, alleging it was dedicated to public use, “and while the golf club is using it, it is a dangerous spot (Free Press, March 20, 1936).
The golf club was unsuccessfully in its argument that it was first on the scene and that the plaintiff was aware of this fact when he purchased his property on Hilton. The club told the court it was unwilling to make any concessions to Chiswell.
Chiswell erected a four-strand barb wire fence but, he said, caddies and golfers still either climbed over or between the strands to fetch errant balls. The more corpulent golfers had stretched the strands, impairing the “natural artistic beauty” of the barb wire, Chiswell testified during a court appearance.
In 1936, Chiswell was fined $1 in Provincial Police Court for following through with his threat and stealing a ball owned by P.D. Evans, a member of the Alcrest club, which was just one of many balls he kept that fell onto his property. Chiswell admitted to a Free Press reporter that he had picked up and kept 332 balls.
Chiswell told the court he believed he had the right to keep any balls resulting from the “onslaughts” on his property. At the same time, he told the magistrate his other motive was to improve the driving skills of Alcrest golfers by teaching them the lesson that errant balls would be confiscated.
Chiswell, a self-confessed non-golfer, testified in court on May 27: “I’ve seen golfers drive off the tee without putting their balls on my property. Why can’t they all do it!”
When imposing the fine, the magistrate expressed some sympathy for Chiswell, but insisted that the Charleswood homeowner could have simply tossed Evan’s ball from his property rather than pocketing it.
After the fine was paid and while Chiswell bounced Evan’s confiscated ball on a table, lawyer Roy St. George Stubbs told newspaper reporters his client would appeal the ruling.
Chiswell, who lived on Hilton Street, eventually obtained an injunction that prevented the “Alcrest golf club, its heirs and assigns” from using the course, which was only lifted by the court in 1938.
“Granting of the injunction arose originally out of a legal battle (between) Ernest Chiswell, the Alcrest Golf Club, the Charleswood Golf Club (which also used the course) and the municipality of Charleswood,” according to the February 24, 1938, Free Press.
The municipality became involved in the court entanglement when it released a plan “to subdivide the area encompassed by the golf course for residential purposes,” but its scheme was put on hold when the injunction was lifted and club members could again play golf at Alcrest.
Plagued by litigation and realizing that the march of progress could not be delayed for much longer, the Alcrest membership conceded defeat, club members sold their shares and the golf course land south of Roblin Boulevard and west of Haney Street was turned over to the Charleswood Golf Club.
In 1968, the Greater Winnipeg Development Plan By-Law identified the golf course as a “future thoroughfare.” The city purchased the property in 1976 in order to build an “inner perimeter beltway,” but this plan remained in limbo for decades. In the meantime, the Charleswood course was given a reprieve.
The Charleswood Bridge was completed in 1995, and the Moray Street extension through the golf course and south to Grant Avenue was begun in October 2001 and completed in September 2002. The city used the land not needed for the extension to create a park with a two-acre retention pond and a 2.7-kilometre pathway.
In a similar manner to the old Alcrest Golf Club, the WGC's golf course at Birds Hill also came to an inglorious end, although well before the Charleswood course’s demise.
The Birds Hill course, which was located about a kilometre directly south of Elmhurst and Pine Ridge golf courses on Garven Road, was often praised for how tough it played and how it challenged the best golfers from across Canada and the Northern United States, as well as some who knew the links in the Old Country.
One such golfer was Nick Bretherton, who was from Kamsack, Saskatchewan, but was raised and played golf in St. Annes on the Sea (Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club), near Blackpool, England, before coming to Canada. As the winner of the low medal 36-hole round during the August 1926 first Free Press tournament, which featured golfers from across Western Canada, he said the Birds Hill course was a pleasure to play.
“So Gordon Hunter, president of the Winnipeg club, ... heard men who knew the best links in the old land sing the praises of the course over which he was the guiding hand,” reported the newspaper on August 20, 1926.
Another challenge in its early days was simply arriving at Birds Hill to play a round of golf. An April 24, 1923, Manitoba Free Press article, First Game of Golf at Bird’s Hill (old spelling used an apostrophe), described how a party of eight Winnipeg golfers riding in two cars made their way to the course on a Saturday afternoon, driving down Nairn Avenue to Birds Hill Road. The road in the RM of Springfield (Garven Road) was said to be “threatening” but passable, while “the north road (Pineridge Road) to the club house looked fine.”
Spring run-off would be their nemesis as well as snow still prohibiting play on a few holes, but as with all golfers across the world from time immemorial, they were intent upon playing their first game of the season regardless of the obstacles thrown in their path.
“A man with a horse and buggy was approaching from the north, the horses at a jog trot. Hopes were high — so was the water, but they did not see it just then.
“All right for three-quarters of a mile, but the fields on each side were a vast lake.”
(next week: part 5)