This history was prepared in large part by Les Santa through conversations with many of the early bridge players in Lethbridge and we would like to thank those who gave of their time and memories. That oral history was augmented by adding information from earlier, unsigned histories and from documented club minutes; it is, therefore, as accurate as memories and documents allow. It is always difficult to know what to include and what to leave out and we apologize if important information has been missed.
The game of bridge has been played as a social past-time for years. There have been clubs all around the city and in southern Alberta since the early 1930s. Bridge clubs used to thrive in the small towns like Milk River and Warner as well as at social clubs in Lethbridge, such as the Chinook Club formerly located on the SW corner of 13th street and 3rd Ave.
The first attempt to organize duplicate bridge in Lethbridge was around 1930 by Aaron Goodman, a young lawyer. He constructed his own duplicate boards out of squares of plywood with elastic bands laced through them to hold the cards. The matches were primarily between friends and associates in clubs and fraternities similar to giant team games. Aaron moved to Montreal and became one of Canada’s early Life Masters and the first treasurer of the Canadian Bridge Federation.
Jack Landeryou organized one of the first open duplicate games in the late 1950s. The games were played at the old Marquis Hotel located in downtown Lethbridge. A short while later the games moved to the basement of the Park Plaza Hotel that is located at Mayor Magrath Drive and 10th Ave.
Another attempt, in the spring of 1956, was by Charles “Chick” Chichester. Chick arrived from Winnipeg with 20 masterpoints, eager to continue the game. He convinced Cliff Black to organize a club and they put up the money to buy duplicate boards and cards. They started in the Civic Centre with five tables of a select group of business owners and city employees. This group ran out of space and moved to Winston Churchill School, playing on Friday evenings with Reg Turner as director.
Some of the early players included Jack, Ena and Reg Turner, Mayor & Court Judge L.S. Turcotte, Cliff Black, Bob and Mary Wobick, Elmer Goodman, Ken and Willa Waters, Herb Balkovske, “Chick” Chichester, Gerta Balfour, Marg Smith, Peggy McCann, Oliver Soice, Swede Miller, George and Miriam Santa, Ken and Pauline Maclean, Mary Ainscough, Gwen West, Mary-Rose Mrazek, Neil McDonald, Gerald Perry, and Les Santa. Other early bridge players included a Milk River group of Doris Michaelis, Mike Angyal, Bob Thielen, Bud Ellert, Terry Michaelis, Gloria and Wally Hummel, Leona Matson, and Joe Lodermeier. The Warner group included Byron Neilsen, Halsey Bixby and Lee Fransden to name just a few of the many players.
The club has always been a non-profit community club and in 1959 a proposal to convert to a for-profit professional club was defeated.
In the early 1960s the Park Plaza players moved to Hamilton Junior High School for their weekly games. Another group was formed for Thursday evening play. Later the Friday group joined up to become the Lethbridge and District Bridge Players Association. This name was registered with the Alberta Government Societies Act in November of 1975. This newly-formed club continued to play at Hamilton for a number of years. Jack and the Turners continued to direct until 1964 when Miriam Santa took over as the first certified non-playing director. Jack and Miriam both taught bridge basics at the Lethbridge College and Hamilton School.
During these years the Lethbridge club had the highest percentage of life masters in Canada in spite of the fact that the amount of masterpoints awarded was somewhat miniscule (Les recalls receiving .07 points at one game) and it was such an achievement to receive a full point in a month that the Unit sponsored a monthly “point game”, played on a Sunday, for those who reached that lofty status.
Sometime during the 1980-81 year the whole club moved to the Lethbridge Seniors’ Centre. Dave Mirion took over most of the directing. As a non-playing director he was paid $33 per session, except when his partner arrived and they played, at which time his stipend was reduced. Wilma and Wayne Winter, assisted by Jan Sheen, taught lesson to beginners. The Centre, being a seniors organization, soon began cancelling bridge in favour of their own activities. The club moved to the Woodwards (now the Bay or Lethbridge Centre) mall about 1996. Several moves within the mall followed over the next few years.
During the 80s and early 90s, as gleaned from the club minutes, there were a number of issues being addressed. There seem to have been a number of ethics violations, considerable discussion and disagreement around the handicapping system that was being used, a great deal of time spent drafting bylaws and a constitution, and discussing the use of the “yellow card.” In 1992 there was a lengthy discussion about “smoke breaks” and in 1996, among a list of “ideas for the club” it was suggested that card shufflers arrive early to allow 15 minutes to shuffle 2 boards per round and 25 minutes early to shuffle 4 boards per round. It was also noted that Lethbridge was considered by the ACBL to be an “unhealthy club” because a majority of the members had more than 300 points (apparently in a healthy club membership was about half and half).
During those same years Gwen West was teaching beginner bridge and was doing most of the directing; Ken Lyle also became a director and Wilma Winter became one of the few non-playing directors. The first attempt at lessons on a large scale was Easy Bridge, initiated (we think in the fall of 2001) by Isabel Hamilton and later taught by Bruce Storey. More than 100 players keen to learn the game signed up; by the end of the year attendance was consistently around 30 to 40 making this a most successful venture. At least three of those folks, Faye Ward, Sylvia Andres, and Nellie Smallbones continue to play in the club to this day. A short while later Bruce and Les both became directors giving the club more options for game directors. Bruce continued to teach classes at the mall for a number of years mainly to players who had some knowledge of the game and wanted updating. Jan and Les were working with beginners at the mall and this continued over to the Bowling Alley on Crowsnest Trail in east Lethbridge. Jeff Robertson joined Bruce and Les teaching beginners in the afternoons and advanced players in the evenings.
Sometime in the late 1970s a member saw a computer scoring program being used in Seattle. He ordered a copy for the bridge club, but when the floppy disk arrived the then secretary-treasurer didn’t know what it was for and returned it. Later, during our stay at the mall we purchased ACBL Score to matchpoint results – a huge time–saver as this had all previously been done by hand. With our move to the Bowling Alley in 2010 we continued to go higher tech, and soon purchased bridge mates (electronic scoring pads) that show player names, contracts, and opening leads as well as scores. A dealing machine with hand records soon followed. These were great developments for our game.
The lack of space, inadequate bathroom, no kitchen and parking problems had us looking to move again. We checked many sites and in 2014 finally found our present home, with its great kitchen and bathrooms and our own office, in the basement of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. Our worry, and excitement, now is that we might soon outgrow this space!
Currently we hold lessons for beginners on Monday afternoons with Myrna Greene, Wendy Egeland, and Chris Burton teaching two classes with more than 50 students continuing over a two-year period. A novice game is held Monday evenings along with a regular game. Lessons on Tuesday evenings are for players who have fewer than 199 points and are led by Les Santa and Jeff Robertson. A relaxed instructional game is held after lessons on Tuesdays. Regular club games are held on Monday and Wednesday evenings and afternoon games on Thursday and Fridays.
We are proud to report that we now have 112 paid members, more than 50 of whom have earned Life Master status
CLUB PRESIDENTS AND DIRECTORS
One of the earliest club presidents was Ken Waters. One member noted that the only time the game ever came to a complete standstill was when Ken Waters suffered a heart attack in the middle of the game (he later recovered). Beginning in 1992 the President was Don Santa followed by Ann Beswick, Ralph Heim, Wilma Winter, Beth Campbell, Bruce Storey and our current President Gerry Perry.
Current members who have qualified as game directors include Ken Lyle, Gwen West, Bruce Storey, Les Santa, Maureen Bailey, Chris Burton, Wendy Egeland, Myrna Greene and Jan Sheen. Five of these take turns running the current games.
CLUB AND UNIT MILESTONES
There have been a number of significant events during the club’s 70-plus-year history. Some of these are:
1958 - The Unit was created; Medicine Hat was included in order to reach the 100 members required; the Unit now included the Lethbridge and Pincher Creek clubs.
1958 - The first tournament was held on March 24 at Winston Churchill High School. It proved very successful and included players from Calgary and Havre.
1958? – The club became a member of the ACBL (unable to confirm exact date).
1969 - The first regional tournament was held in 1969 at the El Rancho Hotel in Lethbridge.
1975 – The club was registered under the Alberta Societies Act.
1988 – John Landeryou reached 2500 points (gold).
1989 – Karl Sudeikat and Richard Spackman placed 4th in North America and 13th in the world at the Epsom World-wide bridge contest (40,000 participants) with a 76% game.
1992 – The timer was used for the first time.
1992 - Bidding boxes were first used
1994 – The current masterpoint rating system was adopted (.1point per table for 1st; 70% of that for 2nd; 50% for 3rd)
1998 – Zero tolerance policy was adopted by the ACBL
2011 - The club was re-registered under the Alberta Societies Act and became eligible for casino funding.
2014 – Bridge mates and dealing machine were in full use.
2015 – Jack Landeryou became a platinum life master (7500 points).
2016 – Gwen West became a gold life master (2500 points).