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Founding of the Club

The legend surrounds the introduction of golf in America.  Some argue that this sport would have been practiced as early as 1760 on the Plains of Abraham by Scottish soldiers, members of General Wolfe’s troops.  However, nothing is less certain.  What is indisputable, however, one of the first mentions of the practice of this sport in North America dates back to the fall of 1854 when a Quebec newspaper reported that a young Scottish sailor passing through Quebec, William Doleman, went to hit balls on the Plains.  It was not until November 4th, 1873 that the first golf club was made permanent in North America at the Montreal Golf Club.  

The founding of the Quebec Golf Club was to follow a few months later.  The opinions were shared on this matter and there was no formal evidence as to the extract date of its constitution.  Club records prior to 1908 likely had been destroyed in the fire, on June 8th, 1929, of the Club’s first pavilion built in Boischatel.  James A. Barclay, drew upon an article by journalist John L. Foote of the Morning Chronicle published in November 1875 in the English periodical The Field and mentions 1875 as the year of foundation of Golf in Canada.  However, Ralph A. Benoit, Council Clerk legislative of the province of Quebec and active member of the club, locates the foundation of the Quebec Golf Club in March 1874 in its club history titled “The Historic Background of a Unique Golf Course”.  Jean-Pierre Paré also opted for 1874 in his biography of James Stevenson published in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.  The two most convincing proofs of the club’s foundation is found on two club trophies, the Memorial Cup and the John Hamilton Cup from the years 1885 and 1899, in which the founding year is engraved as 1874. 

Regardless, one fact remains: the Quebec Golf Club is the second oldest club in North America.  Bankers, who’s social status was considerable at the time, played a leading role in the founding of the Club.  The co-founders, Charles Farquharson Smith, originally from Aberdeenshire, and James Stevenson, a native of Leith, are both bankers, the first at the British North America Bank, and second at the Québec Bank.  The same is true of six of the other first members.  Stevenson and Smith, at the St Andrews Society meetings, pushed many of their fellow citizens of Scottish and British decent to take an interest in the formation of the club.  

By 1875, the club had 20 members, the majority of whom were influential businessmen linked to banking, maritime commerce and to the forest industry.  There were no francophones at that time; it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that French Canadians took an interest in the sport.  The influence of the English-speaking community continued.  For example, the club procedures were written in English until the early 1970’s.  

According to Ralph A. Benoit, the club did not have a President or board of administrators.  The captain, following the British traditions at the time, held the direction and assumed almost all responsibility.  It is true that the role of the captain is, in this era, very prestigious and very much sought after.  Besides the captain, Charles Farquharson Smith, the club had a secretary-treasurer, printer William P. Sloan, and four committee directors, namely the cashier James Stevenson, Herbert M. Price, manager of the Merchant’s Bank, Peter Macnaugton, partner at A. Gilmour & Co, a company specializing in timber trade, and merchant H. Stanley Smith.  This structure survived until 1904, when the position of President was created.  Colonel Herbert McGreevy is said to be the last captain to act in British tradition according to Benoit. 

The club did not have a president until 1904, if we trust the information from Ralph A. Benoit.  This theory accredited by J. M. LeMoine in “Picturesque Quebec: a sequel to Quebec Past and Present”, published in 1882.  LeMoine, president at the time of the Literary Society and history of Quebec, does not mention James Stevenson as president of the club, but rather as a member of the management committee.  It emphasizes, however, the role of Farquharson Smith, as that of captain.  How do we explain that LeMoine does not mention Stevenson as President of the Club when we know he was President of the Literary Society and History of Quebec from 1876 to 1878?  The two men had to have known each other well.

This version of the administrative organization of the club does not correspond to that of the brochure published on the occasion of the centenary of the club.  It is indicated that James Stevenson would have been the first President, from 1874 to 1879.  In addition, the name McGeevy is not on the list of captains but rather on the list of presidents, and according to this document, he would have assumed presidency of the club in 1904.

From the founding of the club, the practice of golf was not the most accessible and admission as a member was a privilege.  The annual fee was set at $2 and remained the same until the start of the 20th century.  The leaderships’ decision to increase the annual fee to $4 in 1889 threatened its survival.  The club did not want to have its own pavilion but rather a small two-story building owned by two members, in which the club rents out during the winter months. 

In the spring of 1895, the members of the club decided, after the federal authorities had finally agreed to let them rent the Cove Fields long term, to request legal recognition of the club under the provisions applicable to recreational clubs provided in article 5487 of the Statutes of the Province of Quebec from 1888.  These state that ten or more persons who wish to form an association, for the purpose of recreation, can be formed with corporation after having obtained the assent and authorization of the municipal council with a signed duplicate declaration mentioning that name of their association, the purpose for which they wish to be legally recognized and the place where this association will have it’s place of business.  

On March 13th, 1895, 17 members of the club signed a request to constitute an association known as the Québec Golf Club to practice the game of golf in Québec City.  The municipal council, at a special meeting held on March 22nd, agrees to this request and the Secretary of the province confirms, on March 30th, the incorporation of the club.  Did we suspect that we were going to ensure the sustainability of a club in this way, today more than a century old?

Elements to emphasize, the first two signatories of the request are John Hamilton and H. C. Shepard’s who indicate, after their name, the position that each of them occupy within the club, those of captain and secretary-treasurer, while the resolution of the municipal council of Québec City reports the request of the “Captain”.  This fact therefore seems to accredit, once again, Ralph A. Benoit’s assertion that the club had no president at the time of its foundation.  Why did John Hamilton not indicate his double role as President and Captain while Major Shepard highlights his role of secretary and treasurer?

It is also interesting to note that the Québec Golf Club participated in the foundation, in the mid-1890s from the Royal Canadian Golf Association.  John Hamilton becomes president in 1897.  Finally, in 1920, the club accepted the invitation to become a member of the Golf Association of the Province of Québec.