Armdale Yacht Club: Promoting Sailing for More Than a Century

Nestled on the shores of Halifax’s Melville Island is the historic Armdale Yacht Club (AYC), the second oldest yacht club in Nova Scotia, which prides itself on its friendly atmosphere, collegial club culture and inclusivity to boaters and non-boaters alike.

The club’s history goes back to 1920, when a group of young men organized a club out of Stoneman’s Armdale Boat House on the lower end of Halifax’s Quinpool Road. After the initial club was torn down, the group relocated to what is now Regatta Point on the city’s Northwest Arm. By 1947, the group relocated again to their current location on Melville Island, which they rented from Canada’s Department of National Defense (DND). 

Although Melville Island currently hosts the AYC, its history goes back much further than that. Since 1732, the island has been a private estate, hospital, quarantine station, military prison, prisoner of war camp, a military training station and an ammunition depot.  All the buildings used by the AYC today, according to past club commodore Sarah-Jane Raine, are original buildings dating back to the 1800s.

“They’re all original. Our clubhouse, when you stand in the centre part of it, was put there in 1808. DND allowed us, over a period of time, to add around the perimeter — the last piece being out in 1968,” said Raine. “The stone jail is still there, and it was built in 1884, and it is pretty well original to what it was back in 1884. The cells, now, are rented out on a yearly basis to the members for storage.”

While the AYC is steeped in history, that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a modernized club with all the services and facilities one would see in any Atlantic Canadian yacht club. The AYC offers wet and dry winter storage, a slipway and cradle system with a maximum capacity of 35 tons, daily and seasonal marinas and moorings, water and power hookups and a fuel dock.

With a membership of 198 boating members and 86 social members, the AYC hosts an large fleet of Bluenose and Roue sailboats, which are regularly put to use during the club’s weekly races.

“We do PHRF racing on Wednesdays, one design racing on Thursdays, weekend races and we have a significant cruising group,” said AYC Commodore Jeff Nelson.

The AYC also hosts six regattas every year, the largest being their Harbour Islands Classic where boaters race around all the islands in the Halifax Harbour. The club also hosts the AYC Opening Regatta, the Ice Breaker Regatta, the Die Hard Regatta, the Mark MacNeil Memorial Race and the Commodore’s Cup.

The club, like many, offers a learn to sail program for both youth and adults. The AYC also offers a program called Broader Reach, which seeks to introduce sailing to new Canadians in the Halifax area.

“Nova Scotia is surrounded by water, and a lot of people would like to be out on the water,” said Nelson. “When we looked at our programs, we kind of discovered there wasn’t any on-ramps for people arriving in Nova Scotia to get them on the water, so we developed the Broader Reach program, which has been quite successful in bringing new people into boating.”

The Broader Reach program has brought people from an assortment of backgrounds, from Ukrainians to Mexicans, Brazilians, Syrians and beyond.

Beyond sailing, the club makes a point of engaging their members in monthly social activities. This, according to AYC’s Communications and Marketing Officer, Brian Blakeney, allows the club’s 86 social members to regularly participate in club activities.

Even when the club goes off and does their cruising functions, we try to take it to a place where socials can drive to. We try to involve them as much as we can,” said Blakeney. “We had casino night, we had jazz night, we had a wine tasting and jam sessions on Friday night.”

Club members and visitors can also take advantage of the full-service bar and restaurant at Spinnakers, located onsite. The location also offers catering for functions held at the club through Horizons Catering, hosted by Executive Chef Andy Thomson.

Between the historic location, the regattas, the amenities and the services provided at the AYC, the clubs management had a lot of positive things to say about their spot on the Northwest Arm. Their favourite thing about Armdale Yacht Club, however, is the collegial spirit and friendly attitude of their membership.

“It’s a very friendly outgoing club, and I’ve had that said to me by new members. They’ve always felt welcomed here. People will talk to them, even if they don’t recognize them,” said Raine. “You always see groups of people standing together and chatting. If you come up into the clubhouse, it can be a stranger just here for the first time or here for 25 years; they’ll speak to you.”

“We’re steeped in history, but we have one heck of a good time,” said Nelson.

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