St. Catharines Club opens its windows and looks to the future

by | Jan 11, 2023 | Club News | 0 comments

Vanessa Groeneveld is the first woman general manager in the club’s 144-year history. She oversaw renovations with its patio expected to open in spring-to keep the club ‘current.’

By: Victoria Nicolaou staff reporter

Sun., Dec. 11, 2022 Ø 4 min. read

One of the first things Vanessa Groeneveld did when she took over as general manager of The St. Catharines Club was open the blinds.

Before that, they were closed – always closed- and she felt it was time to modernize her “baby vampires” by bringing life back into the club.

“Just let some light in,” said Groeneveld. “Be a little more welcoming, give people an opportunity to see what we’re about.”

It was a small step but, she said, a necessary one to tackle what she saw as an identity crisis for the historical club.

“Who are we? Where are we going? How do we survive?” she recalled thinking. “(We’re) barely treading water. The need for what the club was in the past isn’t necessarily the same need that we have now.”

Groeneveld took over as GM on a temporary basis in November 2019, and soon afterwards given the permanent title.

She is the first woman to hold the position in the club’s 144-year history.

The club was founded in 1878 with the purpose of creating “fellowship amongst the founding gentlemen and the others who may subsequently join them”- so for most of its history, it was a men’s club. The second floor was once filled with poker tables, the smell of cigars and business talk.

Not that many decades ago, Groeneveld herself wouldn’t have been allowed inside. In the 1970s, the club did open its doors to women- so long as they were accompanied by a man.

It was also in the late 1970s to early 1980s that its rules began to change, with the first women elected to the club’s board of directors.

Despite being a member of the club before becoming GM, Groeneveld, didn’t comprehend how groundbreaking it was for a woman to hold her position. Not until she read its old bylaws, policies and procedures did she get a true sense of just how unrealistic those expectations were – especially today.

“I don’t think anybody that had a softer temperament would be able to be in this role or would have survived. Because I do have to push back, and I’ve had to be strong and I’ve had to be vocal at the board meetings and say this is not reality,” she said.

“I’m proud to be the first female GM and I think that pride comes out of a sense of the love that I have for the club and for the members.”

That attitude was not only crucial for the club’s future, but necessary to survive the pandemic. Groeneveld acknowledged the difficulties, with club finances a struggle. She did anything and everything possible for the club to survive, including canceling cable service, dropping extra phone lines and applying for grants.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also offered an opportunity she isn’t sure would have been possible otherwise. With so much change happening on such a unique scale, it was easier to say the club needed to evolve, she said.

“It’s definitely been an evolution and really trying to get rid of that connotation of the old boys club,” said Groeneveld. “Change can be really difficult for anybody, at any age. But with COVID, we were able to update our policies and procedures. It was no longer him and he – it became us and they, and she and he.”

It also offered a window to renovate and redecorate 77 Ontario St., where the club has called home for 96 years.

As a not-for-profit organization, the club required assistance from its membership, both in donations and labour, for renovations.

Wallpaper was replaced, new flooring put down, new chair covers ordered. Members rooted around the attic to see what furniture could be salvaged. The main room on the second floor, where an old snooker table used to be, was redecorated.

And a rooftop patio is almost complete, but difficulties with the City of St. Catharines have slowed down the process. The club hopes it’ll open by spring.

“When everything was closed down, it was literally a couple of board members, a couple of main members, and we would come in pulling out the carpet, throwing it in the dumpster,” Groeneveld said.

The renovations, while necessary, were also crucial to the club staying relevant.

As its members get older and die, the club needs to welcome a younger demographic to avoid the fate of other clubs, some which did not survive the pandemic.

In addition to having space for business meetings, inside is a welcome environment for whisky clubs and wine clubs.

But just as important is growing its charity work, and family-friend experiences, such as a Santa brunch that was held last weekend, and its Project Snowflake, which is raising money for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The club also changed its structure, adding a club concierge as well as a membership director.

“We have some younger families starting to come in, which is amazing. There’s a lot of generations here… our biggest now is four generations. Generations of members literally growing up in the club.”

Groeneveld is hopeful a new club president stepping into the role in January shares the vision for the club’s future.

“We’ve been having a hard evolution but at the same time, it’s really exciting because I feel like we’re just almost there,” she said. “We’re almost there and we’ve got a great team in place.”


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