This is the story of the North Vancouver Tennis Society and how a small group of committed people succeeded in creating what may well be one of the best public indoor tennis facilities in Canada.

The raisond’etre of the North Vancouver Tennis Society has been to advocate for tennis in our community. Countless volunteers, countless local government officials and staff, mostly unnamed, have contributed to build a strong tennis community. This short history was written to honour these people. The North Vancouver Tennis Society and the many tennis players who use the North Vancouver public tennis facilities are indebted to these volunteers. The North Vancouver Tennis Society would like to take this opportunity to extend our appreciation to each and every one who contributed to our great North Vancouver public tennis facilities. Thank you.

Special thanks to Cathy Still for conducting the interviews and preparing this history.

The North Vancouver Tennis Society advocates for public tennis facilities

In the early 1990’s there were no permanent public indoor tennis facilities on the North Shore. There was however, a very enthusiastic group of tennis players some of whom were playing as part of an organization called the Senior Tennis Association of the North Shore. Allison Smith, a STANS Board member, had a dream that our community would benefit from an indoor public tennis facility. Allison recruited Frank Gartner and Elmer Helm from STANS and Roger Nickel, a volunteer from the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission to help make this dream come true. The North Vancouver Indoor Tennis Centre Association was formed. The founding members of this Association included Elmer Helm as President, Frank Gartner as Vice President, Allison Smith as Secretary/Treasurer and Roger Nickel as director at large. In 1995, the association was officially registered under the BC Societies Act and renamed the North Vancouver Tennis Society.

The newly formed Tennis Society embarked on their mission – to build a permanent indoor tennis facility in North Vancouver. The Tennis Society lobbied North Vancouver City Council, the District of North Vancouver Council, the Recreation Commission and the Sport’s Council. The Society enlisted the support of the community – they canvassed neighbourhoods and set up information booths in the malls. The Society gained the invaluable support of Gary Young who was the Director of the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission. The search for a site went into high gear and the Society, with the support of the citizens, recommended a site located on Lloyd Avenue. The site was accepted as a possibility by the District of North Vancouver.

1996 was a banner year for tennis in North Vancouver

The District of North Vancouver held a referendum which included funding for a 4-court permanent indoor tennis facility. The referendum passed and there was now money allocated to build an indoor tennis facility. Also, in 1996, the District of North Vancouver approved the Lloyd Avenue site for building a permanent indoor 4-court tennis facility. And, in 1996, on behalf of the Tennis Society and as a member of the Lower Capilano Community Association, Roger negotiated a 2-year lease for unused tennis courts on a Larco Investments property. The $1.00 lease included 4 courts with a bubble for year-round play.In 1997 and 1998, Roger, Elmer and Frank led a group of dedicated volunteers to run the temporary facility in lower Capilano. The Tennis Society was responsible for maintenance, scheduling, staffing and all manner of duties. They even had to repair the bubble after it was vandalized. The North Vancouver Recreation Commission, under the leadership of Gary Young, contributed by providing a temporary office, washrooms, phone lines, fee collection and liability insurance.

North Shore Indoor Tennis Centre Association serves up another winter season under the four-court bubble in North Vancouver. Association directors Frank Gartner (left) and Elmer Helm (right) invite all interested players.

It is remarkable how a group of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers can accomplish so much for the benefit of so many

The temporary year-round tennis facility was a huge undertaking and it was a huge success. There was high demand for the courts, there was relatively low overhead and over $80,000 from net income was raised and donated to the construction of the new tennis facility. Further, and more importantly, the success of the temporary operation convinced the District of North Vancouver that a permanent indoor facility could operate on a break-even basis. While the District referendum had approved 4 courts, the Tennis Society was convinced that a 6-court operation would increase the feasibility of the facility. Under the leadership of Gary Young, the Recreation Commission and staff prepared budgets for 4 and 6 court operations. After many meetings and much negotiation, the District of North Vancouver agreed to lend the Tennis society $500,000 from the Heritage Fund in order to add 2 courts to the originally approved 4-court facility. The Tennis Society agreed to repay the loan and interest within 10 years.

Tennis enthusiasts (left to right) Frank Gartner, Elmer Helm, Bob Abernathy, Ruth Doole, and John Williams.

Never underestimate the power of a group of people working together to achieve a common goal

Building the Tennis Centre was an extraordinary accomplishment. A very dedicated staff led by Gary Young at the District of North Vancouver and a very committed group of volunteers worked together. Decisions had to be made on the site, the design, the architect, the contractors, the finances, the technical requirements, the staffing requirements and on and on. Hours of staff and volunteer time were required but most importantly so many people cooperated to get the job done. This extraordinary process could provide an ideal model for other organizations and local governments to work together to achieve their goals.

On October 2, 1999, The Grant Connell Tennis Centre was officially opened

The District of North Vancouver Mayor, Don Bell along with Elmer Helms from the Tennis Society watched as Grant Connell cut the ribbon to officially open the Tennis Centre. The Grant Connell Tennis Centre proved to be very popular. Tennis players loved the facility, the courts were in high demand and many more people were able to play tennis year-round on the North Shore. North Vancouver residents were understandably proud of their great new tennis facility. The work of the Tennis Society did not end when the Tennis Centre opened. Because of their experience operating the temporary tennis facility in Lower Capilano, volunteers from the Tennis Society played a major role in the operation of the Grant Connell Tennis Centre. These volunteers worked along with the Recreation Commission staff setting fee structures, staffing, scheduling, maintenance and everything else that was required to run the tennis centre smoothly. Wayne Elderton was hired as coaching director and he provided advice on the details of finishing the Tennis Centre. Soon after the Grant Connell Tennis Centre opened, it became clear that the demand for indoor courts exceeded the capacity. Courts were fully booked well in advance, players were frustrated because they were unable to book courts at preferred times, tennis lessons were fully subscribed with wait lists, the demand for booking cards exceeded the supply. On the 10th Anniversary of the Opening of the Grant Connell Tennis Centre, the Tennis Society presented the District of North Vancouver with a cheque for $644,108. The loan from the Heritage fund was paid in full.

Seen cutting the ribbon to officially open the facility were Don Bell, Mayor of the District of North Vancouver, Maureen Curtis, Chairperson of the Recreation Commission, Elmer Helm, President of the North Vancouver Tennis Society and Grant Connell.

The pressure for court use continued to grow over the next few years and the drive for expansion began

Michael Thornton, president of the Tennis Society initiated a proposal for expansion of the Tennis Centre in 2012. He submitted an extensive business plan for an additional 6 courts. The 6-court proposal would ensure that any loans accrued for the tennis centre could be repaid in a timely manner. Although the North Vancouver District initially approved the proposal, new federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans environmental regulations limited the expansion and only 3 additional tennis courts along with a small coaching court, a meeting room and an observation area met final approval. Again, after many hours of dedicated work and continued cooperation between Tennis Society volunteers, the North Vancouver District Council and staff, and various businesses, the newly expanded Grant Connell Tennis Centre opened for play in 2013 and officially opened in April 2014. Coincidentally, Grant Connell requested that his name be removed from the centre and the Tennis Centre was subsequently renamed the North Vancouver Tennis Centre.

The North Vancouver Tennis Centre operation is fully funded by the users

The Tennis Society continued as a strong advocate for tennis on the North Shore. The Tennis Society conducted an extensive assessment of all North Vancouver public tennis courts in 2013 and 2014. This assessment resulted in significant improvement of these courts because the Parks departments of both the City and the District are now committed to upgrading and maintaining the courts on a regular basis.