March 16, 2023
The 1050 Project
A quest to find Canada’s secret pickleball history.
By Chris Koentges
I can’t remember how the photo ended up on my desktop. It was taken in the early 1980s. A shirtless man with a mustache and a Chevron cap playing pickleball on the rooftop of an office tower in downtown Vancouver.
There was a net and what appeared to be permanent lines. There was something graceful about the man’s movement—evocative of Jerry West in the NBA logo. Clearly, this was not the first time the man had played the game. And someone had to have hit him the ball. Was it possible a couple of dudes with mustaches just built a court on the rooftop so they could play pickleball at lunch in 1984? There had to be others.
Recently, a Toronto colleague, Jon de la Mothe, messaged me excitedly. He’d discovered a curious detail in the Pickleball Canada archives. Did I know anything about a league of 48 teams playing in the early 1980s in Vancouver?
As we chatted, I texted him the photo of the shirtless pickleball player with the mustache.
“Wow!” And then he sent back a recent image from Google Earth. In all the scenarios I imagined, it had never crossed my mind that the court still existed. And not just one court, but two.
The address is 1050 West Pender Street. In 1984, the building was the home of Daon Development. Vancouver icon Jack Poole was Daon’s CEO. Poole was ultimately responsible for bringing the Olympics to Vancouver in 2010. We sent the images out through the local pickleball community. Photos of other players from the 1050 rooftop league emerged.
I excitedly reached out to the building’s manager about accessing the roof. We could resurrect the forgotten pickleball league! As quickly as we had discovered the secret court, we discovered the roof had been resurfaced a couple of months earlier. Its stewards never knew the lines were a pickleball court.
Chatting with Jon, we told ourselves there had to be more of these courts elsewhere in Canada. Among other intriguing ideas, The 1050 Project raises the question: What IS a pickleball court?
The collective Canadian psyche teems with imagery of frozen rivers and ponds, of an old-timer in the neighborhood dutifully flooding patches of a local park on bitter cold nights, tending to the ice for families in the neighborhood to play hockey in the morning. For most pickleball players in Canada, however, the game seems to have emerged from YouTube, with no significant context.
With chalk and a portable net, any surface on Earth can become a pickleball court. But, as we say in Vancouver, lines on concrete are just lines on concrete. A pickleball court is a community. Every court has its own diverse characters and culture. The 1050 Project is an attempt to understand the ways that local pickleball culture has grown from seeds sown in unlikely spots at unlikely points of time. •
Chris Koentges has written about true underdogs and sports subculture for The Atlantic, ESPN Magazine, and Bleacher Report. Recently, he helped revive the fabled Jericho Hill Pickleball School (jerichohillpickleball.com).