Of all the community projects completed by mostly voluntary labour, none was as ambitious, impossible some thought at the time, as the Onaping Golf and Beach Club.
Years ago, Falconbridge Nickel Mines Limited had purchased from the now defunct Fish and Hunt Club large tracts of land on the North East shore of Windy Lake. The government expropriated the 102 acres of this property which is now Windy Lake Provincial Park.
Immediately west of this park, the Fish and Hunt Club had built a couple of well-constructed buildings just back from a small sandy beach, sheltered by a point of land. Except for the small slash of sand at the water's edge and the cleared patch around the buildings the area was heavily treed and had several large swamps draining into the lake. When Falconbridge Nickel Mines Ltd. acquired the property there was a winding path through the bush from the Levack Station although most visits and material movement was by boat. Later a path was made from the old Cartier road which was widened to a summer trail with a small but sturdy wooden bridge over the creek that drains the mass of swampland in this rugged northland.
In the spring of 1955, Don Lochead brought his homemade boat, complete with noisy inboard motor, to Windy Lake. He would use his boat to travel up and down the shoreline investigating likely places for summer camps and in time all lots were occupied.
The idea of constructing a golf course on the shores of the lake came to discussion. The enthusiasm generated by that remark was the beginning of a local project that must, even today with the powerful stripping and earth moving equipment available, be viewed as a major operation.
Not in the least daunted by the immensity of the work involved, almost the next day, Mike Poupore was assigned the task of dynamiting the two main beaver dams which controlled the elevation of the water bodies covering a good part of the area to be cleared.
The summer of 1955 was the critical period of the proposed project. As the beaver ponds were draining and some of the ground was firm enough to walk on, a better overall view of the work to be done could be seen. It must have been heartbreaking to the small nucleus of workers, some of whom were Findley Pearson, Cy Mott, Lloyd Durkin, Vic McCallum, Marg McCallum, Don Lochead, Graham Medley and Joe MacDonald to even consider the tremendous task that lay ahead. But anyone who is a golfer, or knows a golfer, has to concede that a more stubborn breed of sportsman does not exist. The words ardent or dedicated are too mild to use in relationship to the fanatic, bullheaded length that a golfer will suffer to find a piece of grass just to be able to hit this little white ball around with a club.
An organizational committee was formed with Don Lochead, Chairman, Joe MacDonald, Works Manager and Lloyd Durkin, Assistant Works Manager. The project was talked up at work, and out of the woodwork came the golfing enthusiast to give a hand.
Because the clearing was such a slow, time-consuming job, and possibly to keep the volunteers hopes high by being able to see positive progress, Jennie Poupore, a professional golfer was called in by Shorty Mott to assess the possibilities of a golf course site. He recommended that the higher ground on the east side be tackled first. By the rather crude but effective method of eye surveys, ground appraisals and thumb-nail sketches, it was planned to clear enough to construct three short holes.
Into the fall of 1955, work continued and enough had been done that those first three greens were to be a reality.By the time the snow blew, not only had a good start been made, but the doubtful period of "will we or won't we" was past. The winter months were filled with plans, ideas, strategy, and ways and means, not only to complete the three holes well under way, but to continue clearing the area ready for expansion. The snow seemed to last forever in the spring of 1956. Just as soon as the land was dry enough, at least so that one didn't get mud up to ones eyebrows, work began again.
When the bulldozer had completed the rough landscaping, the cleaning of the area by hand was started. It was an endless chore; raking, shovelling, wheelbarrow, and dump. One lady remarked, "Do these damn stones grow?"
Each green was named after the person who built it. what is now No. 3 green was made by Don Lochead, No. 8 by Lloyd Durkin and No. 9 now, but was No. 3, was built by Joe MacDonald.
Toward the end of summer 1956, the fairways were seeded and the perfection of the greens was nearly completed. The weather was kind and the grass grew, and was cut. It was quite a sight in the fall to see the slash of green against the backdrop of autumn trees.
Spring of 1957 saw the polishing and grooming of the greens and the removal of the last rocks and stones from the fairways that had been forced out of the ground by the action of frost. Summer 1957 saw the beginning of golfing at the Onaping Golf and Beach Club - a proud time for all who participated.
Who teed off first will never be known, but one story has it that after a party in the Townsite one Saturday night, a well known figure in this project got his golf clubs, and some golf balls, dragged his wife with a flashlight down to the first green, and with her shining the light on the ball, drove the first ball down the fairway. Needless to day, they did not bother to recover the ball.
Gerry Proudfoot was given the job of drawing up a legal constitution which, by this time was becoming very necessary. Dues were being paid, money was being spent, material bought, and there were contractors to look after.
During this time, the beach was being improved. Change houses, toilet facilities, and a play area for smaller children were built. The road to the beach ran at this time along the east side of the Beaver Pond; though much smaller by this time, it was still there. The second three holes would have to be on either side of this road.
A work party of about 25 volunteers was organized and cutting, brushing, and burning was started on the extreme east side of the area, below what is now the Windy Lake Park main gate.
Chain saws became more readily available, and the whine of these small motors was a common sound around the area. The western extreme of the course was established on a high knoll where a small stand of jack pine was left. From this hill, most of the golf course is visible, and this is where some felt that the clubhouse should be built. To secure funds to continue expansion a letter had been written to H. J. Fraser at Falconbridge Nickel Mines Ltd. requesting the loan of $16,000 to build a clubhouse and complete the proposed nine hole course.
The money was made available, and the site for the clubhouse chosen. Because of the beach and picnic site, the tenth hole was built facing the small bay beside the recreational area. It would contain a snack bar and flush toilets, as well as all the necessary facilities associated with golfing, including, of course, somewhere to set a bar and a large meeting room. Combined with a full length glassed-in veranda, it became a busy place during the spring, summer and fall for many activities other than golfing.
By 1957, six holes were now completed and in use. Planning for the last three included the services of William Day Construction for the bulk of the heavy work. When cutting and burning was completed for the last three holes, Bill Day, Mike Poupore and Fats Cecchetto brought in bulldozers to work the land into reasonable gentle slopes for the fairways. Raking every inch of this area had to be done by hand. Every evening, and the whole weekend, volunteers could be seen plodding along at this laborious task.
As the new greens were established, volunteers were given the task of completing them. At the time, these greens were named after these people. Monty Mongomery, Ron MacDonald, Warren Rhude, Hank Dubblesyne and Larry Wagner.
Although the bulk of the construction was behind them, the Executive Committee never stopped changing, improving, and reorganizing. A putting green was made and Bob Weir was hired as Club Professional. Under the direction of Mr. & Hrs. Joe Theriault, the snack bar flourished. The beach, picnic grounds and swimming area were equipped with teeter-totters, swings, barbecue grilles and chimneys and anything else needed to compliment a day at the beach.
To a stranger to this area suddenly finding the harsh northern bush country opening into a green jewel, and in answer to his amazed question, "How was it done?“, one can only answer that once a bunch of hard rock miners accept a challenge, nothing but nothing stops them.
Summarized from information written by Robert Trott. Some photos provided by Leona Dawe.