A paleontologist on cricket in Newfoundland

Postcards from Canada

Cool Innings

They play cricket in Newfoundland? You learn something every day. We kick off a new series tracing the fortunes of a cricket club in the eastern Canadian province

Liam Herringshaw

June 19, 2010

Comments: 6 | Text size: A | A

Tennis-ball cricket in St John's, Newfoundland, Canda
Tape-ball y'all: a tennis ball game on an old basketball court in St John's © Liam Herringshaw
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Welcome to St John's, Newfoundland, inaugural outpost of the British Empire and self-proclaimed oldest city in North America. The Union Jack still flutters on flagpoles, the pubs serve pints, and there's a fish-n-chip shop on every street, so colonial expats like me should feel right at home. Come June, however, and it quickly becomes apparent that something is missing. There's no cricket.

In some ways, this is unsurprising. Not without good reason is Newfoundland known as The Rock. The glaciers of the last ice age scraped off most of the island's soil and dumped it in the Atlantic, so flat, grassy areas are scarcer than non-Etonians at an English prime ministerial reunion.

The local climate is hardly conducive either. St John's may be further south than Paris, but the Labrador Current ensures it is Canada's snowiest, cloudiest and windiest major city. The seasons often take a Pythonesque approach, with winter giving spring and summer a miss and going straight back into autumn. So ice hockey is king, and cricket isn't even the bastard son of the Prince of Wales.

It hasn't always been like this, though. In the latter half of the 19th century, St John's saw teams from "Avalons" to "Zulus" battle it out for summer supremacy, and a league championship was set up in 1891. The Dominion of Newfoundland (as it was) even managed to produce three first-class cricketers. But not long into the 20th century, the sport began losing a territorial battle with football and baseball, and soon its popularity had dipped lower than Colin Jackson in an Olympic photo finish. And so it has remained.

Until now. Until a daft and eclectic group of like-minded souls decided that this would be the year Newfoundland cricket was resurrected.

It began, like so many modern movements, with a website. The man who got the revivalist ball rolling was Chelsea fan Paul Canniff, who set up www.stjohnscricketclub.com in 2009 to see if there were any other lost cricketers in the provincial capital. I'd only just moved here, an optimistic sun hat the sole item of cricket kit to cross the Atlantic with me, so was delighted to sign up, and a few others were too. We couldn't rustle up a full team, though, and the brief summer was over before we'd made much progress.

Then, earlier this year, Paul contacted our select band and told us of an email from the mainland. The Nova Scotia Cricket Association had found the site and sent us an invitation. Would we be able to get a team together to represent Newfoundland in the Maritime Canada Twenty20 tournament later in the year?

Well, what could we say? Of course we would!

Initial conversations with local sports fans didn't bode well - "Cricket? Isn't that the game where you ride a horse?" - but the friendly garrulousness of Newfoundlanders meant that, despite their bafflement, word soon began to spread.

Within a couple of weeks our new recruits included a Viking-like outdoorsman from the island's Northern Peninsula (who just happens to be married to a Kiwi, and has actually attended a Twenty20 international), an Irish rugby player, a Manxman who rowed for Oxford University, and an Ontarian who used to play baseball. Oh, and two ex-professional English footballers.

And then, in one of those moments of serendipity, I cut through a nondescript park on my way back from a Saturday shopping trip and stumbled upon a tape-ball game taking place on a run-down basketball court. I wandered over in amazement, and the two teams told me it was the first India v Bangladesh match of the season, and that they gathered there to play every weekend. I couldn't help but laugh. Twenty-two cricketers? In one place? In Newfoundland? Impossible!

And so the revival begins. For much of its history, Newfoundland swapped salted codfish for Jamaican rum. And if the residents of that fine island managed to enter a bobsleigh team in the winter Olympics, the occupants of this one can cobble together a squad for a regional cricket competition. Cool Runnings has been and gone. It's time for Cool Innings.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by liamherringshaw on (June 20, 2010, 22:42 GMT)

@WeirdBeard - The three Newfoundlanders who played first-class cricket were JS (John Shannon) Munn, who played 10 games for Oxford University; his step-cousin William Bowring, who represented Barbados; and George Pitts, who played twice for Middlesex.

(with thanks to the research and articles of Dave Liverman, fellow St John's resident and former Cricinfo director)

Posted by gottalovetheraindance on (June 19, 2010, 22:21 GMT)

what robbery! codfish for rum? Jamaica is surrounded by the caribbean sea so we should not have had any trouble getting 'salt fish' it was robbery i tell u !!! lol

Posted by BWBipps on (June 19, 2010, 18:45 GMT)

Come and see us in PEI!

We have a lovely ground at Tea Hill Park outside Stratford over looking the ocean and a great team. We're out there Saturdays and Sundays through the summer and many evenings.

Posted by WeirdBeard on (June 19, 2010, 13:45 GMT)

It's me again, the 'Newfie' - I meant to ask, who were the three first-class cricketers from the Dominion of Newfoundland? Or should I 'Ask Steven' :-) Thanks again for a great article.. as a Newfoundland expat, I will spread the good word amongst my friends and family there!

Posted by WeirdBeard on (June 19, 2010, 13:40 GMT)

I was born and raised in Newfoundland, but left home at age 18, and have only been back for short visits since. I learned the game of cricket via my travels in UK and Australia, and it has become my new favourite sport! I am amazed to learn that not only does St.John's have an active cricket club, but cricinfo has written about it. This is a great article!! It has touched my heart, and really hit close to home for me! I thank you very much for writing about Newfoundland and about the promotion of cricket there! I actually play cricket for the Nova Scotia Cricket Association, and I would love to see a team from Newfoundland represented in the Maritime Cup. Only problem is, I wouldn't know who to support! My team, or my 'home' team.. I love this game!!!

Posted by realredbaron on (June 19, 2010, 4:21 GMT)

Beautiful article Liam. It will provide with a picture of this game of glorious uncertainty in Canada to the rest of the cricketing world. I was born in Bangladesh but grew up in Montreal and Toronto. Cricket is well alive among the Bangladeshis, Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistani diaspora here in Canada. Nowadays, there is regular high school and University cricket leagues(not your Oxbridge standard though) in Greater Toronto Area. Staying up all night and watching live test cricket over illegal broadcasting on the internet is actually quite a common phenomenon among these 2nd generation Canadians of subcontinental descent.

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