John Nichol isn’t quite sure how to handle all the attention. “I’m a very bashful person. Something like this will give me a heart attack,” he says. “I think I’m going to go out of town. It sounds like a good time to go to Hawaii.”
The source of Nichol’s good-humoured consternation is a tournament and dinner being held in his honour Saturday (July 30) at the Oak Bay Tennis Club.
Nichol is turning 80 this year, and the club is celebrating an even bigger birthday, marking its centennial in 2011.
Originally the B.C. Electric and Railway Tennis Club – it was founded by the company that became B.C. Hydro – the facility grew from humble beginnings on courts in the Windsor Park area. In 1912-13, the rail company purchased lots on Bowker and Cavendish Avenues and relocated the club permanently in 1923.
In the late 1950s, B.C.E.R. executives, worried about the club’s dwindling membership, speculated that it might close if it did not become self-supporting. Negotiations proceeded slowly, but in 1964 the sale to a group of charter members was finally completed, and the club was rechristened the Oak Bay Tennis Club.
Today the club has 430 adult members and 100 juniors. Membership is a hot commodity.
“We have a seven-year wait list,” says club president Christine Kirchner.
Centennial celebrations are already in full swing. Earlier this month it hosted a tea to honour the charter members who saved the club and a dance was held last weekend. The festivities culminate Oct. 29, when the club will be inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.
‘Hey, that’s my game!’
Nichol took up tennis at 20 while living in Trail. “I saw some beautiful women on the tennis courts and said ‘hey, that’s my game!’”
A natural athlete, he learned the sport with the help of some local pros, and from then on, he was hooked. “I didn’t know anything about the game, but they showed me a thing or two.”
After a hiatus from tennis while studying forestry, Nichol moved to Nelson, where he spent 10 years as a member of the Nelson Tennis Club, including five as its president. During that time a trip to Victoria motivated him to make a home on Vancouver Island.
“It was winter, and there was snow on the ground back home,” he says. “I got a chance to play outside at Beacon Hill and I said ‘I’m moving here, even if I have to pump gas.’”
Plenty of changes
In his 40 years at the Oak Bay club, Nichol has seen plenty of changes. Foremost among them have been a pair of court replacements.
“The old courts were made of asphalt, and they were very bad,” he says. “Full of dips and cuts.”
Other upgrades include new fences, handmade benches and even a new clubhouse, which opened in 1984. For Nichol, the esthetic changes are great, but it’s not why he’s stayed involved all these years – including 12 as club president.
“I just like the people,” he says. “I like the fact they’re tennis players, but more importantly they’re really interesting people.”
It would appear those people feel the same way about him. Kirchner hatched the plan to fête him as part of the club’s centennial. To ensure the spotlight-shy Nichol shows up, she’s arranged for all four of his children to be there, including a son who is coming all the way from Wisconsin.
“It’s going to be great fun,” Kirchner says, adding with a mischievous grin, “We’re even going to induct him into our Octogenarians Club.”
Humility aside, Nichol hopes the club continues to be a gathering spot for the community.
“We just want to make it a place that is appreciated by many different types of people,” he says.