The Cypress Club was established in 1903 by Medicine Hat’s ranching and town communities. Patterned on the private clubs of Victorian Britain, the Club’s goal was to provide a centre for fellowship and good times. In the early years of the century, the West was quickly filling with commerce and manufacturing to serve the rapidly agricultural base. Although Medicine Hat was at that time still within the North West Territories of Canada it already becoming an important trade and service centre. Gas lamps still illuminate the outside of the Club, a reminder of the importance of natural gas in the early development of the city, and in today’s petrochemical industrial base.
Within two years of its founding the Club moved into its current home, a gracious two story building of characteristic brick and sandstone design. The interior retains it’s turn-of-the-century decor and features a beautiful stained glass window illuminating the stairway. Various pieces of art create a comfortable western ambience.
During World War II the Cypress Club became the Empire Club to serve the military personnel stationed in the area. The connection is maintained through its relationship with nearby military establishments.
Today’s membership includes the original founding families, in addition to the many other individuals whose enterprise has led Medicine Hat to become the service centre for south-east Alberta and south-west Saskatchewan.
The club took its name from the nearby Cypress Hills where the original ranchers first settled to take advantage of the water, timber, and lush grassland that distinguish the area from the surrounding more arid prairie. The Hills are now a joint Alberta Saskatchewan Provincial Park, recognizing their unique ecological value and important place in the history of Western Canada.
The Cypress Club, Incorporated 1903
By the 1880s, the lonely land north of the Cypress Hills seemed on the threshold of a new vitality. The buffalo were disappearing, the ranch herds arriving. The old order of the nomads was yielding to the settlers. When the railway stretched its weary way into the region in 1883, the Medicine Hat story began. And even in the coming of the railroad, lays the start of the Cypress Club story, for if Medicine Hat is the husky son of ranching and industry, the Cypress Club is the grandson – the offspring of district and city.
The club’s history starts in 1903, when on Nov. 30 in the offices of the Medicine Hat Times, officers of the Cypress Club were chosen. F. L. Crawford became president, D. G. White was made secretary-treasurer, and A. J. Day, William Cousins, W. T. Finlay, F. O. Sissons, C. S. Pingle, and A. W. Kealy were chosen to form the club’s committee.
Adhering to the theory that mistakes would be forgiven, but hesitation never, the executive went into action two days later to turn a dream into reality. The first steward for the club was appointed and paid the princely sum of $65 a month (later stewards were paid less). The executive decided to purchase a house for the club’s premises and to arrange supply of a billiard table. Billiards predominate the minutes of the succeeding years, but not always happily so. The club also chose to arrange for liquor and to purchase furniture. The liquor arrangements seem to have worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
“The best laid schemes 0′ mice and men gang aft a-gley.”
At its very next meeting, a week later, the club’s executive was presented with the resignation of the steward. It was “read and accepted.” Soon, very soon, it was discovered the purchase of a house couldn’t be financed. So rooms were taken “temporarily” in Mr. William Cousins’ house for $30 a month. But the executive wasn’t to be daunted. An overdraft was organized for a billiard table and one purchased from a Toronto firm.
However, the purchase didn’t prove entirely satisfactory. The minutes of a May, 1906 meeting show the club’s secretary being instructed to write the suppliers:
“It was impossible for us to send the cushions to Toronto for repairs, that the cushions had never given satisfaction and were a disgrace, and that if they could not send a new set, they could go to the devil”
The letter suggests the spirit which had come with the settlers to the West – the same spirit that made the club possible.
Despite initial difficulties, the club managed to get itself going, and the first price list was drawn up on Jan. 6, 1904.
DRINKS: one for 15 cents; two for 25 cents; three for 35 cents; four for 50 cents; five for 60 cents; six for 75 cents; seven for 85 cents; eight for $1.
CIGARS: imported, 15 cents each; domestic, 10 cents each.
BILLIARDS: life pool, 5 cents a cue; English billiards, 10 cents a cue for a 50-point game; 15 cents a cue for a 100-point game; American pool, 5 cents a cue.
Gambling wasn’t permitted in the early days of the club. In May, 1904 the steward was ordered to make a report on an incident involving gambling. He was also authorized to summon the police “if gambling be persisted in.” His subsequent report revealed that certain prominent members had not only been gambling but had “opened the door of the bar without his leave.” The members concerned accepted responsibility and their explanations were accepted. By 1909, this had been relaxed somewhat. The club directed that the “bridge point played for be reduced to one cent and that playing of poker be eliminated from the club.” Whether the bridge point of one cent was calculated on a hundred or one point is not specified – one gathers the former to be the case.
In April, 1905 the club purchased lot 20, block 15 (complete with building) from A. C. Hawthorne. This lot embraced part of the property now occupied by the club and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building. A loan of $3,000 at 10 per cent interest per annum was arranged with Mrs. Gertrude Noble. The building was renovated to accommodate the club.
In 1907, the club purchased another lot (the “Porter’s lot”) for the express purpose of making a deal with the Canadian Bank of Commerce. The new lot cost $ 7,000 and then part of that lot and the one purchased in 1905 were sold to the bank for $12,000. On the remaining land, the Cypress Club – as it stands today – was erected. W. J. Williams acted as architect. Building the facility were Messrs. Oakes and Everard. They had bid $13,475 for the project – the lowest tender. Another tender was let to R. Walton for $1,450 worth of “plumbing, gas fixtures, etc.” The projects were financed through a $15,000 loan (at 10 per cent yearly interest) from H. C. Yuill. But while the club and the city were building and growing, there came a threat to Medicine Hat’s good name.
In the boom year 1910, the Cypress Club was instrumental in saving the city’s colorful name, which “so echoes the Cree and Blackfoot tradition of red mystery and romance that once filled the Prairies.” (Rudyard Kipling) The “boomers” wanted to change Medicine Hat to something more genteel. But they reckoned without the diehards in the Club. At an informal meeting in their favorite resort, these diehards “discussed and cussed” the proposal and decided to enlist the aid of famed writer Rudyard Kipling. The author had been in the city three years earlier to have a “glorious time” with the club members. A letter to Kipling evinced a lengthy reply frothing with distaste for the notion of renaming the city. His last paragraph was the most venomous:
“What, then, should a city be rechristened that has sold its name? Judasville.”
The city kept its name. The Cypress Club was in continuous operation from 1903 (when it was incorporated) until Sept. 1, 1943 when its premises and effects were leased to the Empire Club for the benefit of our armed forces camped in the Medicine Hat area during the Second World War. When the Empire Club’s lease expired at the end of 1945, the ordinary and life members of the Cypress Club (as it had been dissolved in 1943) resolved on Feb. 8, 1946 to sell the property and assets of the Club to a holding Company – Cypress Club Assets Ltd. The holding company, however, had to issue each of the members of the Cypress Club (those who were in good standing) a fully paid-up share worth $100 in the Cypress Club Assets Ltd. It also had to agree to lease the property and assets that the club had before dissolution to the Cypress Club for $1 a year. The Cypress Club, meanwhile, had to assume all the obligations of Cypress Club Assets Ltd. Cypress Club Assets Ltd. was duly incorporated on Aug. 21, 1946 and has since sold additional shares to provide funds for the complete renovation of the club’s premises.
Except for minor interior alterations, the building today is as it was designed and erected in 1907.