During the summer of 1990, the Kanawaki Golf Club was closed to its members, but several community members had the opportunity to use the course free of charge. (Courtesy Lincoln Rice)
While Kanien’kehá:ka communities were facing turmoil 26 years ago, several Kahnawa’kehró:non decided to take their minds off the ongoing Oka Crisis by taking over the fairways and greens of the Kanawaki Golf Club for a day.
The private club closed to its members when barricades were erected on the Mercier Bridge during the 78-day standoff.
“That was it,” said Louie John Diabo. “They didn’t open back until September and I believe they lost a lot of members out of fear.”
At 16 years old, Diabo was already an avid golfer. He, along with nearly 100 community members, participated in a Vegas-style golf tournament organized at the club that summer.
“It was like the movie Caddyshack when they take over the pool. Once a year they’re allowed to take over the pool. Well, we took over the entire course that day,” recalled Diabo.
“It was in the middle of the crisis so we needed something. We needed something to get everybody out of the negativity that was going on.”
The tournament, which took place around mid-August, was organized by Barry Montour.
“It gave us a chance to sort of relax and take our minds off the stress that was going on in Kahnawake, of course,” said Kenny Kane. “We had a very good time.”
However, not everyone was happy about the decision to hold a tournament during the crisis. Kane mentioned that some community members approached the players questioning their motives.
“It was unfortunate that we had some people who approached us on the course and asked us why we were celebrating or enjoying ourselves, and we said listen, ‘there’s nothing we can do right now,” he said.
“The town is protected, most of our elderly people and children are over on the West Island in hotels. Because we were golfers, we chose to have a tournament.”
Lincoln Rice was a part of the winning foursome.
“We played good. There’s no ‘I’ in teamwork, so we all contributed,” he said.
“The 10th hole was our 18th, so our last whole, we didn’t hit a good drive, so by the third shot, it was on a severe down slope – we didn’t have very far, maybe 40-45 yards. I was the last guy to hit, so you’d think I be shaking. I can’t remember who made the putt, but that was our last hole. We got -6, the closest was -3.”
Rice was one of the local golfers that took up regular practice on Kanawaki’s course that summer.
“We all had to man the barricades, but that was like our break. That Sunday, we all went, we all played. How often do all these guys get to play right from the first hole?” he told The Eastern Door.
For Diabo, the opportunity to play at Kanawaki was liberating.
“I was happy like hell. ‘I’m playing at Kanawaki. I can do what I want. There’s no non-Native members looking at me – leering at us.
“At the time when I was working there years earlier there was always rules, rules, rules. Dress code, very tight and well, that day, if you look at the picture, you could see how some of the guys were dressed. They didn’t care,” laughed Diabo.
Diabo worked at the club for several summers when he was a teenager.
“I caddied. Then I worked in the back and I remember working and it wasn’t always the best environment. The members were okay, but it was a different day in age where our position within Quebec society was very different,” he said.
“So, the fact that that course run like that without allowing any Native members as long as it did was really a sore point with a lot of people.”