Happy Youth Club — the oldest recreational club in Seychelles — is celebrating 55 years of existence. It was on September 7, 1963, that the club was opened in Victoria as a place where young people can hang out and socialise.
Local historian Tony Mathiot told SNA last week that the club was the initiative of the late Brother Imier Montavon of the Roman Catholic Diocese.
“A group of enthusiastic young men, with the support and guidance of Brother Imier, built the Happy Youth Club on a piece of land donated by the Catholic Mission. Its objective was to have a place where the youths of Victoria could gather in the weekends and socialise in the convivial spirit of brotherhood,” explained Mathiot.
Mathiot added that recreational games like darts and dominoes kept the youth happy. Apart from indoor games, members of the club undertook several outdoor activities such as camping.
Dawson Sinon and Eugene Jean are two founding members who are still active with the club. Sinon, who joined the club when he was 19, said that the idea for such a place came in 1962.
“There were around 10 of us who use to hang around Gordon Square (known today as Freedom Square). Brother Imier who at that time worked with young people brought the idea of a club. Before building the club we used to gather at two different buildings before Bishop Maradan gave us the plot of land to build a permanent club,” said Sinon.
The club was built on the premises which used to be Ste Claire School — a Roman Catholic-administered school for girls. It was the late Oliver Maradan who was the Bishop of the Diocese at that time which opened the facility.
Sinon said that together with Brother Imier they were involved in several activities in the community. These included the erection of a big cross in 1965 on the Trois Freres Mountain — a mountain range which overlooks Victoria, the capital city.
“One thing that the group did on Good Friday every year without fail was to hike up to Trois Freres mountain to repair, clean and paint the cross,” said Sinon, adding that this tradition is no more as all members are middle age and no young people are joining.
Members of the Happy Youth Club were also involved with the building of Sacré Cœur chapel at Anse Boudin, on the second-most populated island of Praslin. The foundation for the chapel was laid by Brother Imier and other members from the Happy Youth club in January 1968.
“Sports was another thing which we were active in, we were active in table tennis and most of us were players in the football team Everton, which at that time was a strong team,” said Sinon.
The club is equipped with recreational games that kept the youth happy. (Salifa karapetyan, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
The Happy Youth Club has contributed to the progress of football in the country. According to Mathiot: “Everton won several titles, the coveted Football Association Jubilee Cup in 1970, as well as the Castle Beer Championship League. Indeed, we can say that during the early years of its existence, the Happy Youth Club created quite a few national idols.”
Early in 1970’s, the club was equipped with weightlifting equipment and in May 1974 it organised the first first-ever bodybuilding contest at La Salle D’oeuvres (currently the Deepam Cinema) and it was the 23-year-old, Rene Youpa, who became the First ‘Mr Seychelles’. On August 31 of that same year, the club organised the first weightlifting competition in Seychelles – a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean.
Brother Imier Montavon, a Swiss, came to the island for mission work in 1961. Imier’s work revolved around training young people in masonry and carpentry. After 20 years he returned to his country where after studies was ordained a priest. In 1992, to celebrate 100 years of the Diocese of Port Victoria, Father Imier was back in the islands where he met with his former club members. Imier died in 2013.
Sinon, a sound technician who is now retired, visits the club almost every day. “I am forever grateful to Frere Imier who believed in us the youth of Seychelles and who created this club. And it is here that we relive the good old days.”
Happy Youth Club has 150 members, and rents upstairs space as a way to sustain it. Sinon believes the club is here to stay. “A few years back there was a move to redevelop the area, but the church and members said no, and this will remain as is,” concluded Sinon.