Community Clubs Sailing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Bill Mantle instrumental in creating Nepean Sailing Club

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Let’s call them the Helmsmen of Harlowe.

In the late 1970s, Bill Mantle, Jim Leeson and Keith Cattrell lived on Harlowe Crescent. It’s a residential street in the Crystal Beach sector of the former city of Nepean. If you took a short walk at that time from their street and headed north, you would come across undeveloped and inviting land touching Graham Bay, which led to the Ottawa River.

The three gentlemen shared the common bond of sailing and were guided to make an important contribution to their community.

That love of sailing was quite evident for Mantle and Leeson as their boats were quite often visible in their driveways. They had heard about the work of Brian Conway, who was part of a group that made a proposal to Nepean city council in December, 1978, to construct a sailing club on Graham Bay.

The council would have no part in it as the councillors felt it may be too elitist for the city, according to an article titled An Abbreviated History of the Nepean Sailing Club, 1979-94, which was written by Michael McGoldrick.

But Nepean mayor Ben Franklin said he would bring forward the item to the new council after the 1979 election. A new set of eyes studying their proposal thought it seemed like a good idea, except the new council was set on trimming taxes.

Expectations weren’t high until the Helmsmen of Harlowe decided to hoist their sails, catch enough interest in the community and build Nepean’s first sailing venue.

Early in Mantle’s fact-finding mission, he learned the Nepean council didn’t want to be part of a project “so that rich guys could sit on their 30-footers drinking cocktails.”

Hoping to replace that negative with a positive, the Helmsmen of Harlowe needed to show there was significant interest in the community for sailing.

“Basically, we were pushing the line that sailing was a grassroots activity, and that would attract the interest and participation of young people,” Mantle said.

They organized a community meeting Dec. 18, 1978, and took the proactive move of creating a sailing club. Seventy-two hours later, the club established a steering committee and Mantle was appointed the interim president or commodore on the executive.

The executive, which also had Cattell as a director, sold their case to Nepean council, which “voted 7-0 to commit $90,000 toward the construction of a ‘sailing marina’ on the Ottawa River,” McGoldrick wrote.

Mantle, who was instrumental in creating the Nepean Sailing Club, passed away Nov. 6 after a brief illness. He was 80.

Bill Mantle (right) presents a plaque at the Nepean Sailing Club’s official opening in 1979 to Nepean Mayor Ben Franklin, who would later have the neighbouring greenspace named after him. Photo: Nepean Sailing Club archives

The club officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 29, 1979. But it would be another three years before the first phase of construction would be finished.

Mantle’s next task was to hold a sailing night, featuring films and food, at the Nepean Sportsplex to initiate its membership drive. By mid summer, the club had registered 120 families for a membership of 350 people.

Gerry Gravelle was selected the first official commodore on the 10-member board of directors, which also included Mantle as past commodore in 1979 and 1980. Mantle, who was the club’s newsletter editor in 1979, was the board secretary under new commodore Colin Nicholson in 1981.

The club’s breakwater was near complete by 1983 and the Dick Bell Park Sailing Pavilion (clubhouse) opened in 1990.

Born in Windsor, Mantle started his career with Northern Electric before his communication skills made him director of information for Bell Northern Research. He later started his own communications consulting firm.

Mantle enjoyed his CS27 sailboat Sugar Pie and spent many hours with his family at the Brockville Yacht Club. He also used his carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills on the family cottage in Quebec and showed creativity in his hobbies of stained glass, wood carving and photography.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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