The history of the grand old game became a passion for William Lynnwood (Lyn) Stewart – the owner/operator of two Quebec golf courses in the Ottawa area and the first golf museum in Canada.
How this passion for the history of golf developed is uncertain, but one certainty is that the game and golfers have benefited from Lyn Stewart’s foresight and obsession with the game.
A voracious researcher and writer of numerous essays on many aspects of the game, Lyn Stewart was introduced to the game at a young age caddying on the links at Rivermead, Chaudiere (Chateau Cartier) and Glenlea (Champlain) golf clubs. He grew up in the company of many of the leading golfers in the area who would also go on to become the top amateurs and professionals in the local golf community. Included in this group were Darcy Boucher, Sam Dempster, Stan Kolar, Frank Mann, Rube Mullen, Harry Mulligan and Andy Nezan.
A competent golfer, Lyn won a few club championships at the Glenlea Golf and Country Club and is noted in various World War II army dispatches while he was stationed in England. Lyn’s wife Barbara indicated that “Lyn and his army buddies would take every opportunity to play golf on the links of England and Scotland. The locals looked after them by loaning the boys golf equipment and made sure they would receive a favourable rate for play.”
In an article titled “POST-WAR GOLF in BRITAIN”, Captain Lyn Stewart talked about the Canadian Army Team and their various competitions. Chief among the competitions was the Canadian Army Championship held at the Walton Heath Golf Club, outside of London. Even more important than the golf championship was a meeting held with James Braid, the Walton Heath Professional. “James Braid was a member of the famous Golf Triumvirate, who, along with J. H. Taylor and Harry Vardon, dominated world golf in their time, and between the years 1894 and 1914 combined to win a total of 16 British Open Championships.” Lyn had the opportunity along with Sammy Koffman, reporter for the Maple Leaf, the Armed Forces weekly news bulletin to sit and have a pint with a true golf legend.
Lyn Stewart walked away from this meeting with a better appreciation for the history of golf and golfing equipment. He was quoted on the experience in a later newspaper article, “A bit of the tradition rubbed off on me.”
Before he returned home to Canada, Lyn was introduced to Andrew Bell, a native of Troon, Scotland by his staff-sergeant. Lyn and Andrew Bell then made the rounds of the golf shops with a few bottles of “Single Malt” and after a few drinks were able to avail themselves of some clubs and golf balls of historical significance. It didn’t hurt that Mr. Bell was related to the Black’s, a well-known family of golf professionals and he knew a lot of the Scottish pros. Mr. Bell was able to accumulate a substantial amount of early Scottish clubs and golf balls for the Canadian Golf Museum.
With the war ended, Lyn returned home to his wife Barbara and took over the operation of the Glenlea Golf and Country Club managed by his father. This arrangement continued until 1975 when the National Capital Commission purchased the golf course and re-named it the Champlain Golf Club.
Lyn’s interest in golf promotion and history had not waned and in the early 1960’s he started looking for another property. According to Barbara, “Lyn fell in love with the property we now know as Kingsway Park Golf Club. He especially loved the rustic appearance of the 1812 ‘Mulvihill stone-house’ on the property that reminded him of St. Andrews, Scotland and felt it would be the perfect location for a clubhouse as well as an area to display the golf artifacts he had accumulated through the years.”
In a short period of time, Lyn purchased the property, designed both nines and established the first Golf Museum in Canada. His nine-hole courses opened in 1965 and 1969 and his golf museum was designated a Centennial project and was opened by Canada’s Centennial Commissioner John Fisher in 1967.
Lyn made good use of his golf contacts in the Ottawa area and soon his collection of golf material at the Canadian Golf Museum was augmented by donations from many local golf professionals and amateurs including Marcel Desjardins Harry Mulligan, Earl Stimpson and Ernie Wakelam. Marcel was the pro at the Royal Ottawa and made available numerous clubs designed and built by Karl Keffer as well as other clubs by Royal Ottawa Golf Professionals including John Oke, winner of the first Canadian Open in 1904.
Lyn also used his contacts with the Golf Collector’s Society to add unique and collectible pieces to his collection.
As attentive as he was to his Glenlea and Kingsway Golf Clubs, Lyn Stewart’s pride and joy was his Canadian Golf Museum. Unlike other museums that charged an admission fee, the Canadian Golf Museum was open on a daily basis, free to all and in most cases your guide through the museum was no other than W. Lynnwood Stewart.
His collection included many items gathered from various parts of North America and Great Britain.
On display in cases were excellent examples of 19th century clubs including long-headed wooden play clubs, graded spoons of various angles and lofts. Featured in this grouping was a leather-faced spoon by Willie Park, winner of the first British Open in 1860. Other display cases featured 20th century clubs and modern clubs. Viewing the displays gave golf enthusiasts the opportunity to follow the growth of golf club technology through the years.
Another showcase showed the evolution of the golf ball from the ‘feathery’ (1830), the ‘gutty’ (1848), the rubber core ball (1898), to the present day high compression ball. The exhibit also featured an improvised wooden ball used by soldiers in North Africa in the war years 1914-1918.
Old golf prints, autographed pictures of champions and a comprehensive golf library also adorned the walls and bookcases of the Canadian Golf Museum.
But all good things must come to an eventual end.
When Kingsway Park Golf Club was sold in 1992, the Canadian Golf Museum was closed. The Canadian Museum of Civilization, between 1993 and 1996, began the acquisition of Lyn Stewart’s extensive golf collection and the collection is now part of their national history collection.
Lyn Stewart collaborated with David R. Gray along with the Museum of Civilization to produce a booklet titled “The Implements of Golf: A Canadian Perspective” about Lyn Stewart’s collection. “A Day of Golf at The Museum of Civilization” took place on April 18, 2002 and consisted of two separate programs intended to introduce people to the collection of golf antiquities at the museum and foster the discussion on the history of golf and development of the game.
Unfortunately one key person was missing from this event.
W. Lynnwood Stewart passed away on February 10, 2002 at the age of 86. This writer is sure that he was looking down and was more than pleased with the display of his life’s work.
As the years have gone on, many societies dedicated to preserving the history of golf have evolved. Antique golf clubs and paraphernalia are now highly sought after and valued as collector’s items.
Golfers throughout Canada owe a debt of gratitude to a man ahead of his time, the late W. Lynnwood Stewart. Lyn has to be considered a pioneer in Canada for his foresight and obsession with the game we call golf.