'I shouldn't have to have a husband': Winnipeg businesswoman slams squash club's men-only policy

​A former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says it's about time that men-only clubs open their doors to women.

Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club continues to ban women as members, as it has since 1909 opening

Jodi Moskal, a former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce who ran for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives last year, says it's about time that men-only clubs open their doors to women. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says it's about time that men-only clubs open their doors to women.

Jodi Moskal, an electrician who also ran for the provincial Progressive Conservatives in a byelection last year, has been researching clubs in Winnipeg that once allowed only men but changed to admit women.

During her work, she discovered the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club continues to ban women as members, as it has done since opening in 1909. When she posted the finding on Twitter, one person suggested it was Moskal's fault for missing out because "your husband could of joined."

Others also went online in calling for the club to change its rules.

"It's 2018," Moskal told The Canadian Press. "I don't need my husband's permission to get a credit card anymore.

"I shouldn't have to be tied to my husband. I shouldn't have to have a husband. What if I had a wife? What if I was single?"

Moskal said she's OK with a men's club that's just for sports. But a professional club that's only for men puts businesswomen at a disadvantage, she suggested.

The club's website stated that it is one of the remaining few private, men-only clubs in Canada.

"Sorry Ladies, Men Only," the website also read, but both of those references were removed Monday.

A photo on the site shows four men wearing sport jackets and toasting with whisky glasses.

In addition to squash courts, billiards, a tanning bed and a steam room, the club touts its networking opportunities and business events.

"Many of our members have found new business partnership opportunities, and our younger members have received job offers and built new friendships that will last a lifetime," it boasts on its website.

The squash club's board of directors said in an emailed statement that while it has some co-ed tournaments and special events that include women, "we are prevented from converting this co-ed status to a permanent, year-round basis ... based on the tight confines of our present location."

It's the same reason former Winnipeg mayor Susan Thompson says she was given when she was told she couldn't be a member of the club more than 30 years ago.

Susan Thompson served as Winnipeg's mayor from 1992 to 1998. She says she was refused memberships to various business clubs, including the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club, because she is a woman. ( Marouane Refak/Radio-Canada)
Thompson had taken over her family's city saddlery business but says she was refused memberships to various business clubs because she was a woman. At the Carlton Club, she was listed as an associate and could only attend with her father. She could have lunch at the Manitoba Club, but had to use the side door.

After applying each year for eight years, she became the first female member of Winnipeg's Rotary Club.

Most other clubs followed suit. But not the squash club. As mayor from 1992 to 1998, Thompson gave speeches at various events there but couldn't be a member.

It's wrong, she said.

"Men do have the right to have their own club and women have the right to have their own club," said Thompson, 70. "But the point is the squash club also rents out to women's organizations.

"It's quite willing to allow women's organizations to help fund its organization by renting its space out to women, but apparently we're not good enough to belong."

Other men-only clubs in Canada include the Toronto Racquet Club and Cambridge Club in Toronto. In 2015, then-Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver came under fire for a planned speech on the economy at the Cambridge Club.

The event was cancelled before it began, but then-Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, now foreign affairs minister, famously crashed the club and spoke with reporters in the lobby next to a man in a bathrobe.

Jen Marchbank, a professor in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies department at Simon Fraser University, says men-only clubs stem from Victorian times. And while many started allowing women following challenges in the '80s, she said some "relics" still exist.

She said women have fought for their own spaces too but women-only gyms, women's centres and shelters are intended to overcome social inequality.

"Whereas going somewhere to play a game of squash and then be able to drink beer with another guy in a suit and a tie doesn't sound to be somewhere that is doing a service."
The Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club is drawing criticism for its men-only policy. (Google Street View)

The Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club's board released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying they understand concerns had been expressed about the club, but they had no plans to convert to a co-ed facility due to the "tight confines of our present location."

The board also said in its statement they have held many co-ed tournaments in the past and will continue to offer them in the future.

Full statement from Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club

"We understand that some concern has been expressed online regarding ‎the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club, which has operated as a private organization since 1909.

"While ours is a men's only, private club, we have created many opportunities to include women in co-ed tournaments and special events etc. within the confines of our physical plant.  

"Unfortunately, while we can accommodate occasional co-ed events, we are prevented from converting this co-ed status to a permanent, year round basis, again, based on the tight confines of our present location. 

"‎As always, we will continue to seek out and offer even further co-ed opportunities."

With files from Rignam Wangkhang