Landmark lawnbowling club threatened with extinction

By Brandon McFarlane

A cloud of uncertainty looms over the future of Centretown’s Central Lawn Bowling Club as the closing of what may be their last season approaches.

“We just don’t have enough people,” says Margaret Smith, treasurer of the approximately 80-year-old Centretown club. “We need 20 or 30 members next year to make it worth while.”

If more members aren’t found, the club may close its doors for the last time. Smith says club membership has dropped from nearly 40 when she joined 15 years ago to only eight today.

The Bronson Avenue club has tried unsuccessfully in the past to raise their numbers by advertising in Centretown News, handing out leaflets, and postings notices inside churches. Any semblance of effort has withered away with time.

The club has struggled to attract new members – especially younger ones – and many of the older members have died.

The Elmdale Lawn Bowling Club, just south of the Queensway, has maintained their numbers over the years, but fear they may fall into the same trap as the Central club.

“We’re going to have a real attempt next year to attract younger people,” said Elmdale’s spokesperson Colin Richardson. “[Lawn bowling] is a game that is hundreds of years old and played all over the world. Somehow, in this area, people think it’s just for seniors but it certainly isn’t.”

Next year, the club is planning a media campaign to draw some younger members to their ranks. This past season, Elmdale used a free opening day and a discounted $30 membership fee to attract first timers. Richardson suggests effort and the best lanes in Ottawa are their advantage over clubs like Central.

“I’ve been past there. Their greens appear to be very badly maintained,” says Richardson. “They have very few members that are very old, and once they’re gone they’re gone. I guess they haven’t made a big enough effort.”

Smith says Central’s greens have had a bad season. Croquet Ottawa, who is responsible for maintaining the grass, accidentally used the wrong seed package, covering the field with weeds.

Smith also says the age of their members prevents them from putting forth any more effort.

“In our case it’s difficult,” said Smith. “We’re all older people and we don’t have the enthusiasm to go out anymore.”

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) became a hub of Canadian bowling this past summer. The club hosted the Canadian National Junior Championship in August. Top junior bowlers from across Canada came to the Ottawa club to compete, bringing with them a slew of media coverage.

“It showed the higher skill of bowling. A true inspiration,” says Elmer Janzen the Ottawa club’s greenskeeper.

The club is optimistic the much needed press coverage boosted their numbers, but won’t know for certain until they do their season’s end paper work. Janzen says at the beginning of the year, the OTLBC had been able to attract some younger members. He says the club’s 100 members are all aged over 60 or below 14. Many hope these few juniors will save the sport from literally dying out.

The OTLBC is also planning a big effort next spring to attract more members. They have recruited several new people this year by offering a fee reduction to members who bring in new bowlers.

The Central Lawn Bowling Club can’t offer a similar discount, because the organization bills members retroactively. At the end of the year, the club calculates the cost for using the City of Ottawa facility and then splits the bill with Croquet Ottawa. Together the groups pay for maintenance, lighting, and for equipment. This year’s bill could be huge for the eight Central members.

And the membership continues to dwindle. The club’s president, Smith’s husband Clifford, had his bowling season cut short with health problems. This is the last thing the member hungry club wanted to face this summer. Unless there is a miraculous increase in numbers, the club’s demise could be at hand.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t give you a more positive story,” says Smith.