Wharfies start bridge legacy

FULL HOUSE: Sumner's Bridge Club president Julie Cunningham.

You could say it was rain that created the Sumner Bridge Club back in 1968.

A group of people got together – mostly men – who worked at the Lyttelton wharves, club president Julie Cunningham said.

“The rules of stevedoring in those days were that if there was too much rain, you weren’t able to work. So they used to go indoors and play cards.”

Eventually they decided to form a club.

They didn’t have premises initially, but used the social hall at the St John ambulance rooms and the Sumner Community Centre.

Its first session was convened with 27 players on September 9, 1968, in the supper room of the community centre.

When a run-down weatherboard house in Dryden St was spotted for sale at a cheap price, the club bought it by raising 216 debentures from their members.

Purchased for $3750 in May, 1970, the property had a 2017 capital rating valuation of $445,000.

The debentures also funded major renovations at the property, and because many of the men in the club had carpentry and building skills. They set about gutting the inside, changing around the layout and putting in men’s and women’s bathrooms, Ms Cunningham said.

Sumner Bridge Club Committee at the club house official opening, November 7, 1970.
Back row: (l to r) Kees Bruin, President; Dennis Alexander, John Kuiper, Treasurer; Peter Graham; Jack McNab, Vice President;
Sitting front: H. Andrew, G. Goodwin, Secretary; M Saunders, Rita Mander, Edna Pengally, Ellen McNab

After a few years, a breakaway group formed what became the Mt Pleasant Bridge Club.

This time it wasn’t rain, but smoke that was the cause.

“In those days, people smoked tremendously, particularly the men. After seven or eight years, some of the club members asked the offending smokers to desist while playing but they refused,” she said.

So a group broke away and formed the non-smoking Mt Pleasant Bridge Club with 40 members in August, 1975.

But after a few more years, Sumner also went smokefree.

Today the club continues to thrive, with members ranging in age from their 40s right through to 93.

Ms Cunningham herself came to the game at retirement age.

Having grown up in a generation where a lot of people played cards – “there wasn’t much entertainment in the evenings!” – she still had eight weeks of lessons before starting.

And beginners lessons are still offered regularly at the club, which will mark its 50th on the weekend of September 8 and 9 with a get together and drinks on Saturday followed by entertainment, lunch and a tournament on Sunday.