RCYC Island Clubhouse: Clean Slate

+VG’s restoration of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s historic Toronto Island Clubhouse is a hit with hearty sea dogs, landlubbers and members alike.

The Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) may be one of Toronto’s more venerable institutions, founded in 1852, and able to boast possession of the city’s largest wooden building with the Toronto Island Clubhouse. But what it is not immune from is age. Worn and dysfunctional, the club’s landmark was in dire need of a thorough heritage restoration.

With a successful overhaul of the RCYC’s City Clubhouse in 2018 already under their belt, Peter Berton and Chris Hall, partners at The Ventin Group Architects Ltd. (+VG), moved on to update the 1922 Island Clubhouse, which was a modified version of the 1906 design by the Toronto architectural firm Sproatt and Rolph that was destroyed by fire in 1918. The team breathed new life into the old dame by repurposing its iconic veranda into an upscale bar, adding washrooms on the ground floor (a feature long missing), an elevator to improve accessibility, and other design details.

The exterior wall’s stucco cladding and the stately wood portico of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s 1922 Island Clubhouse were repaired and repainted. Existing windows were replaced, including the attic’s ocular windows, with double-glazed environmentally friendly replicas.

The existing building’s cornerstone, still gracing the entrance, was laid by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor). Additional echoes of the club’s illustrious past live on in its expansive trophy displays befitting a sailing club that has won the prestigious Canada’s Cup nine times.

+VG was a good fit for this project because retrofits and the historic restoration of prominent civic buildings is one of the firm’s specialties. Such projects include Toronto’s re-gargoyled and upgraded Richardsonian Romanesque-style Old City Hall, the exterior restoration of the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park, the restoration of St. Michael’s Cathedral and the modernization of Hamilton’s midcentury-modern Provincial Offenses Administration Courthouse.

After winning the Island Clubhouse commission, +VG prepared a Heritage Impact Brief, approved by Heritage Preservation Services as required by the Ontario Heritage Act, before commencing work on the 10,350-sq.-ft. renovation project. The building’s façade was given a thorough conservator’s restoration, with the stately porticoed veranda now boasting a new Sailors’ Bar that centres around a solid-walnut half-racetrack-configured bar situated to exploit the impressive view of Toronto’s majestic skyline.

Before the renovation, there was no veranda bar. The veranda bar’s half-racetrack bar top and the similarly configured overhanging cedar-strip ceiling evoke a boat’s rounded stern and define a convivial lounge area.

The Sailors’ Bar straddles the club’s interior and exterior. “Our inspiration was the outdoor bar at the Water’s Edge Wine Bar and Grille Restaurant at Lake Joseph Club in Muskoka,” says Hall of his firm’s upscale hospitality project in Ontario’s cottage country. In fairness, it’s easy to understand why the existing RCYC Island Clubhouse lacked a bar that faced the “money view”: today’s bustling, dramatic skyline was, in the club’s earlier days, an unsightly, polluted industrial waterfront.

Upholstery in the club’s official royal blue, and expanses of white paint evoking fresh canvas sails, establish a nautical theme. Original porch decking was restored, then given a marine-blue finish. The ceiling over the Sailors’ Bar is clad in cedar; the bar is mahogany. Both woods are favoured for their weather-resistant durability and for fostering a warm and cozy ambience. “The outdoor bar makes for a really fun place, especially during sail-pasts, which just make you want to sidle up to the bar,” says Berton.

The mahogany bar top, polished-brass foot rails and high-gloss white-paneled bar front articulates a yacht-inspired materials palette.

The bar’s indoor counterpart, a cocktail lounge with a sports-bar feel, continues the nautical theme and extends the life of the bar during inclement weather. A continuous palette of materials and colours intertwines both spaces. The other principal room on the ground floor is the Harbourview Room. Here, original oak floors and bronze chandeliers were polished to their original sparkle.

New main-floor powder rooms – surprisingly absent in any of the building’s “before” iterations – offer privacy and convenience Their finishes include marble, grey tile and walnut millwork. One universal, barrier-free washroom was also provided. As part of the project’s mandate for improved accessibility, an elevator was added to the clubhouse to whisk members to the second floor: an impressive, barrel-vaulted space proving to be a popular venue for weddings, receptions and Halloween balls.

Photography by David Whittaker