(with acknowledgment to Nancie Erhard’s First in Its Class - The Story of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron published in 1986 by Nimbus Publishing, Halifax) 

In the early 19th century, the Royal Yacht Squadron formalized many features of regattas that remain in practice to this day. It wasn’t long before Royal Navy and British Army officers garrisoned in Halifax, along with local townsfolk, imported this popular activity. Halifax’s first formal regatta was organized by the Navy and held in July of 1826. That and subsequent regattas were very much enjoyed by the locals and, by 1837, steps were taken to establish a yacht club in Halifax. On 27 July, 1837 the Halifax Yacht Club came into being.

A seminal event in our history was the visit to Halifax in 1860 by His Royal Highness Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. The 19 year old Prince had become an enthusiastic yachtsman and a regatta was planned in his honour. The Halifax Yacht Club took centre stage in organizing what proved to be a very successful regatta and, in appreciation, the Prince consented to become the club’s Patron (the current Royal Patron being his great grandson-in-law, Prince Philip). The Prince of Wales further undertook to commission a cup, the Prince of Wales Cup, and to endorse the Club’s petition to Queen Victoria for permission to adopt the term ‘Royal’ in the club’s name (granted in 1861). By 1862, the Royal Halifax Yacht Club, with a Royal Patron, a prestigious cup and the authority to fly the blue ensign, was in place.

Up until this period, the club had no clubhouse to call home, nor a dedicated piece of waterfront from which to sail. After several years of false starts and a great deal of controversy over funding, and even consideration of using a yacht to host the club, a clubhouse was built near the Narrows along the shoreline north of the Naval Dockyard in the Richmond (now Hydrostone) district and it opened in 1870 (this clubhouse was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion of 1917 but the club had by then moved to newer accommodations).

photo 1

Royal Halifax Yacht Club,  1871

By 1875, tensions within the membership led to a schism which resulted, by 1880, in the transformation of the Royal Halifax Yacht Club into the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. In the process, the club lost its clubhouse and, until 1890, it made use of the Royal Engineers Headquarters (now the site of the Westin Hotel) from which to run races. A dedicated clubhouse was constructed between South Street and Point Pleasant Park and opened in 1890.

photo 2

RNSYS Clubhouse c. 1900

This new clubhouse was to have an unexpectedly short lifespan. By 1912, the government was talking of a new and expansive docking facility in the area called Ocean Terminals along with a rail line running down the west side of the peninsula and across to the harbour, north of Point Pleasant Park. The club lay in the middle of the development. With the writing on the wall, the club moved its boathouse further south and set up temporary operations in that area. At some point between 1915 and the end of the Great War, the clubhouse was confiscated and razed.

With compensation in hand and an offer to rent government property at one dollar a year, a new clubhouse was constructed at the base of a large breakwater which now defines the southern face of the container terminal. It opened in 1922 and was to be home for almost fifty years.

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RNSYS Clubhouse c. 1950

By 1960, the club was running short of room to grow and lived under the shadow of further expansion of the Ocean Terminals facility. In 1963, six acres along the Arm and a house, Cottsleigh Cottage, was purchased from Life Member B. Pearson McCurdy and it became the focus of sailing, in particular junior sailing, while the clubhouse at the breakwater was the centre of social activity. The formal move of operations to the new clubhouse was made in 1968 although the old clubhouse remained in use until the burgee was lowered in 1971. The clubhouse on the harbour was demolished in 1972.

photo 4

Cottsleigh Cottage c. 1970

By the turn of the century, the neighbouring Saraguay Club was feeling the pinch of a declining and ageing membership. With the prospect of having to disband, discussions between the two clubs were undertaken to examine some form of amalgamation. In 2005, the Squadron absorbed the Saraguay Club, taking over the property while Saraguay members became members of the Squadron. The Saraguay’s clubhouse became the Squadron’s Saraguay House.

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RNSYS’s Saraguay House, 2007

RNSYS is the oldest yacht club in North America and over the years has been involved in many significant achievements. The Prince of Wales Regatta, one of the premier sailing events in the region, has been run continuously since 1861, war years excepted. With the Boston Yacht Club, the Squadron organizes the biennial Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, first sailed in 1905. The Squadron was also the club-of-record for the True North America’s Cup challenge in 1984 and the Canada II challenge in 1987.

In the summer of 2014, the RNSYS was honoured to host more than 150 competitors from over 20+ countries for the 2014 International Federation of Disabled Sailing (IFDS) World Championships. 

The Squadron is invested in supporting our athletes as they continue to achieve distinction in national, international and  olympic competitions, and become pioneers in the sport of sailing.