Cricket in Canada: a historical review

A brief history of cricket in Canada

Jon Harris
Some stories, some history, some facts, some observations
A fundamental influence on cricket in Canada is geography. The greater part of the land is frozen for seven to eight months each year, which presents challenges for the maintenance of cricket grounds, and the ongoing practice, training, and coaching of players. With cricket played from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the vastness of the country complicates life for those dedicated to the administration of the game.
Cricket like most other sports was brought to North America. The dominance of British influence, at one time, extended all along the eastern seaboard of the North American continent. According to Deb Das, "The first cricket clubs in ... the USA were established in the 1700's, not long after they made their first appearance in England. Originally played by officers of the British Army with local landed gentry predisposed to be Anglophiles, cricket became a major recreation of American gentleman of leisure".(2000). This expression of colonialism resulted in the arrival of cricket in Canada. Sir Derek Birley has indicated that "the game had taken root beginning amongst the military and the superior sort of colonists".(1999).
There are many records of cricket being played in Canada by the Royal Navy and the British army. The British government established military garrisons in British North America in Halifax (1749) Quebec City (1759), and the City of Toronto was developed from the military garrison of Fort York.(1792). The earliest record of a cricket match being played in Canada, by civilians, appears in the form of a reference to a game played at Ile-Ste-Helene, near Montreal, in 1785.
During an exploration, under the command of Capt William Parry, two Royal Navy vessels, seeking the Northwest Passage, became stuck in the ice. There is a record of cricket, (in the form of a print from an engraving), being played on the ice in 1822-1823 near the island of Igloolik at a latitude 3 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. These games were certainly the venue of the first cricket played in Canada's far north, and because it is the land of the midnight sun, it is assumed that there was no delay in the games due to bad light.
The military personnel were temporary migrants to Canada. What cannot be ignored, in the development of cricket in Canada, is the influence of migration. Some of the British Empire Loyalists, leaving the new country of the United States of America to start a new life in Canada, would certainly fit the model suggested by both Das and Birley. In the century after cricket was brought to Canada, successive waves of immigrants sustained and revitalized the population of cricketers. Later there was immigration which countered that revitalization. "The impact of immigration had also been felt towards the end of the 19th century, when Anglo-Saxons found themselves being generally swamped by Scandinavians, Eastern Europeans and others, who brought a different approach to the whole matter of sports. Hence the general decline of Canadian cricket after about 1870. By this time, too, the Canadians were searching for a national identity less reliant on British models and were becoming increasingly influenced by American culture.". (Keith Sandiford, 2001).
Cricket in Toronto can be traced to the Home District Grammar School, which was founded in 1807. Most of the early matches played in Toronto were `friendlies'. Towards the end of the 19th century the Mercantile League was formed and the sport was then played on a more structured basis. The Toronto Cricketing Club was formed in 1827, on the initiative of George A. Barder, who is first referred to as "the father of Canadian cricket" in 1858. The club is still going strong, and is now known as Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club.
Cricket was introduced more generally, into what is now known as Ontario, about the year 1829, and clubs were formed, and the game played, in Toronto, Guelph, Kingston, Woodstock, and Hamilton prior to 1840. The Carleton Cricket Club was established in 1840, in the what is now known as Ottawa. Other clubs in the Ottawa area were Aylmer and Prescott. In 1858 The Canadian Cricketer's Guide reported that 81 matches were played in the previous season. It should be noted that this work was essentially reporting the game from an Ontario perspective.
Captain Pemberton, of the 60th Rifles, `laid a crease at Rideau Hall' in 1865. When Canada became a Dominion in 1867 the "first Governor-General had set aside land at the Vice-Regal Lodge for (cricket) practice, and the Prime Minister had declared cricket the national sport". (Birley:1999). Subsequently a cricket ground and pavilion were developed at the vice-regal residence, and it is still regularly used. The official residence of the Governor-General of Canada is now known as Rideau Hall, and that is the location of the cricket field.
It has been continually reported, in Canada, that the earliest international athletic contest, of the modern era, was established in 1844 when Canada and the United States "played at cricket" at the St. George's Club in New York, for a wager of $1,000.00. It should be noted that in "The Cricketer's guide", (1858), it is recorded that "The Canada Match ... began in friendly encounters between the Toronto and St. George's (New York) Clubs .. in 1844". The match "first assumed its present goodly proportions of Canada vs the United States in 1853". "
As with all matters related to cricket, there is always more than one version of events.
The American version of the first Canada vs U.S.A. international is described by Das as follows:-
"The match of 1844, at Bloomingdale Park in New York, came about because in 1843, a New York team had landed penniless in Toronto and were fully financed and entertained by their magnanimous hosts. In order to honor this Canadian gesture, the New Yorkers invited the Canadians to play in New York. The US team was drawn from several New York clubs, and also included players from Philadelphia, DC, and Boston (the other centers of US cricket at the time). The Canadians, too, tried to come up with a representative team. All the posters and advertisements of the match from that period, which are available in cricket libraries, refer to a "Canada vs USA" match, not a New York vs Toronto fixture. There were about 20,000 spectators at the match, and bets of around $120,000 (close to $1.5 million in today's currency) were placed on the outcome. By any reckoning, therefore, this has to be recorded as an international fixture - and a major one at that, surpassing many sporting events of that time.".
The following Canadian version of the same event was written by Kevin Boller
" The match had taken place as the result of a hoax, perpetrated some four years earlier by a certain "Mr. Phillpotts " who had invited the St. Georges Cricket club of New York to visit Canada and play a friendly game against the Toronto Cricket Club on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. On the afternoon of August 28, 1840 eighteen travelweary members of the St. George's Club turned up in Toronto following an exhausting journey through the state of New York by coach and across Lake Ontario by steamer only to discover that the members of the Toronto Cricket Club had no knowledge of any such cricket match. The sociable "Mr. Phillpotts" who had originated the whole episode could not be located, which of course, came as no big surprise to everyone involved. The officials of the Toronto Cricket Club felt most uncomfortable about the whole state of affairs and as a result a hastily called meeting was convened of members who could be rounded up on short notice. Following some earnest discussion, a challenge match was organized between the two clubs for a stake of fifty pounds ($250) a side. Despite the hurried arrangements a sizeable number of spectators turned out and the band of the 34th Regiment entertained the gathering. His Excellency the Governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur added a regal touch to the occasion by putting in an appearance. Following the match which the New Yorkers won by 10 wickets, a gala dinner was held and judging by press accounts of the day a great time was had by all. Fortunately out of this confusion a rapport developed between the St. George's Club and the Toronto Cricket Club and as a result plans evolved for the historical encounter between the two countries at New York in 1844. The match was played for a stake of $1,000 on September 24-25 at the grounds of the St. George's Club. The Toronto Herald reported the crowd to be about 5000 and as much as $100,000 depended on the outcome".
A third version of this story was written in 1895, for which there is no space in this publication.
Cricket has been played from as early as 1849 in what was then known as Fort Victoria, British Columbia, when a British officer, Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant, arrived with some cricket gear. The first reference to civilians playing cricket in B.C. dates back to 1852, the game was being taught to schoolchildren. Matches between the Royal Navy and Victoria clubs began to be reported in the Victoria newspaper. The year after the incorporation of the City of Victoria, 1863, the local newspaper announced that "The first cricket match of the season will be played tomorrow at Beacon Hill". For two decades the sports coverage in the newspaper was almost exclusively devoted to cricket.(Ormsby).
The "Westminster Folk", established a cricket club on the British Columbia mainland at McLean's Farm in Pitt River in 1860. Cricket in Nanaimo is referred to in correspondence dated 1864, which relates to the use of part of the Nanaimo Indian Reserve for a cricket ground. There is currently a league which includes teams from Nanaimo, Comox Valley, Arrowsmith and Campbell River.
The first visit by a team, from another continent, for sports competition came to Canada in 1859, when an English team, made up primarily of professional players, played in Montreal, Hamilton and the U.S.A. Fred Lillywhite wrote of a welcoming speech given by F.G. Johnson, who presided at a dinner in Montreal on September 24, 1859. Johnston is reported to have claimed that when has was a Governor in the Red River Settlement "they had a cricket club" and that "He recollected that on the starting of the club they had no bat or ball. However, with the assistance of a carpenter and a shoemaker, these were soon manufactured, and many capital games ensued." (The English Cricketers Trip to Canada & The United States: 1860). Scrutiny of this delightful anecdote presents some problems. If Lillywhite correctly reported the speech, and there seems no reason to doubt his capacity, we probably have a record of a Canadian cricket myth. Given the human propensity for selective memory, cricketers being amongst the best exponents, it is prudent to indicate that there is no record of F.G. Johnson as "Governor" of the Red River Settlement, as claimed. What is known is that the territory (Manitoba) was controlled by the Hudson Bay Company, and an examination of the lists of Governors and Deputy Governors the name Johnson, or any variation of the spelling, does not appear in the period before 1859.
The Alberta provincial archives show that the Edmonton Cricket Club, one of the few clubs in Canada to have its own private ground, was founded in 1882. Dr. Wilson, (the first club president) was the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of what was then the North West Territories.(Michael Andrews:2001). Early records indicate that games were played against teams from Fort Saskatchewan and Strathcona. In 1884 Fort Saskatchewan formed a cricket club, which briefly provided out-of-town competition, until the disruption of the Riel Rebellion. (Edmonton, Portrait of a City: 1981) Matches have been played against sides from Australia, England and New Zealand. The first Edmonton vs. Calgary cricket match was played on August 16, 1892. The rivalry between the two cities continues in a more physical way with ice hockey and football, (Canadian rules). The Strathcona Cricket Club was founded in 1893. By 1912, cricket in Alberta had a considerable following which led to the establishment of the Edmonton and District Cricket League. Currently the league web site shows thirteen member clubs.
The first annual Dominion Day (now Canada Day) inter-city matches, between Vancouver and Victoria took place in 1887. In the same era more cricket clubs were formed on Vancouver Island. The Albion CC was founded in November 1891 and, having their priorities in order, the first recorded expenditure of the club was $0.65 for a dozen beer glasses!
The British Columbia Cricket Association comprises three member leagues. The Victoria and District Cricket Association has roots dating back to 1863. This league presently comprises 12 teams. The British Columbia Mainland Cricket League was formed in 1914. The league now consists of more than 50 teams in 5 divisions, including a premier division. Vancouver Cricket Club (1889) and Burrard Cricket Club (1905) are the oldest clubs in the league. A cricket field and pavilion was established at Brockton Point, Vancouver, (1892). The first fixture was a match between Vancouver and the Californians, with whom a friendly rivalry had started in 1869.
Cricket had been played from coast to coast to coast by the 1890's, some 25 years after it had been declared the national sport. The Canadian Cricket Association was formed in 1892, and is still the governing body, with 8 member provincial associations.(Gerald Redmond: 1988)
An Australian team visited Canada in 1913. The tourists did not travel under the auspices of the Australian Cricket Board of Control, but nevertheless included `Test' players, one of whom was Arthur Mailey. "The tour was quite extensive - 53 matches - 49 wins - one defeat -German Town Cricket Club, Manheim Pennsylvania." "A milestone was achieved in British Columbia when the tourists amassed the imposing total of 633 runs for 8 wickets. This still stands as the highest team innings ever recorded in the history of Canadian Cricket".(K.B.).
Obviously Arthur Mailey enjoyed himself, for he was a member of the 1932 unofficial Australian team, which has been referred to as Bradman's honeymoon tour. `The Don's' bride was the only woman in the touring party. (Irving Rosenwater:1978). Fifty one matches were played over a period of 76 days, which left only twenty five days to cross the continent twice by train, thanks in part to the sponsorship of CP rail. A representative Canadian side played the Australians in Winnipeg, in an unofficial Test Match which the Aussies won by an innings and 21 runs.
The following is quoted from "Farewell to Cricket", (Don Bradman: 1950).
". . .we commenced a series of matches at Brockton Point Ground, Vancouver. . . This is without question the most beautiful ground in the world. No doubt the champions of other grounds will hesitate to agree, but I cannot imagine a more delightful place for cricket. The ground is on the edge of a beautiful wooded park. Sitting in a deck chair on the verandah of the rustic pavilion, one can look across the field towards the towering snow-capped mountains, while in the foreground an arm of the harbour runs behind the sightboard, and lazy old ferries dawdle across the bowler's arm. To the right are small clumps of ornamental trees. Then further to the right is the harbour where seaplanes come in to a graceful foamy landing, and beyond is the city itself with its tall, stately buildings on the skyline."
Bradman established three records for Canadian cricket (1) 15 centuries in a Canadian season. (2) The highest individual score in Canada - 260 (3) The only batsman to score two double centuries in a season.(K.B.). It should not be surprising that `The Don' created a record for the most centuries in a Canadian season. What should be noted is that five of the 18 centuries, (three scored in the USA), were scored in Vancouver, and that he was dismissed twice in those five innings, in which he scored 848 runs. It is no surprise that Brockton Park was so highly regarded. Bradman's average for the 1932 tour was 102, which is surprising, in that, it is not much different from the rest of his career. Also surprising is that the ratio of centuries to the number of innings is almost exactly the same for the full extent of Bradman's career. (I.R). The tour started in Victoria and moved across Canada to Toronto and Montreal, then to New York, Detroit, Chicago, back into Canada to Winnipeg before returning across the Prairies to Vancouver, and then south to Hollywood where matches were played against expatriate `Brits', including the former `Test' cricketer C. Aubrey Smith, Boris Karloff and Leslie Howard. Perhaps it is significant that `The Don' wrote (1955) that "The best players we met were in Toronto" and that "perhaps the highlight [of the tour] being the occasion when I was privileged to sit with Babe Ruth, America's baseball hero", at Yankee Stadium, New York.
It is currently claimed that the Toronto & District Cricket Association is the largest cricket league in North America. Consisting of 4 divisions, 62 clubs with 95 teams the Association reports over 1015 registered players. The league has some of the best playing facilities in the Canada, with a total of 25 playing grounds.
It is important to note that not all cricket, played in Canada, is confined to the formal associations and leagues. Some of the diplomatic, and consular officials, resident in Canada have reported using cricket as an opportunity for social interaction. High school cricket is played in the lower mainland of British Columbia, and Manitoba, and probably elsewhere, and an over 40's league exists in the greater Vancouver area, where nine junior cricket teams also play. A survey conducted by Boller (1999) showed that there are a significant number of social clubs in Ontario. One of these is the London Cricket Club, Ontario, officially formed in 1889, whose roots go back to the British Garrison in the early 1800's. Such is the community support, that another social club, Ajax, is hosting ten of the matches in the ICC Trophy Tournament. Some of these unaffiliated clubs have formed leagues and even developed their own web sites: another obvious testament to a love of the game. In Toronto 109 clubs play in four leagues outside the umbrella of the Toronto & District Cricket Association.
This evidence of vibrancy, and vitality, will only be sustained if all levels, and forms of cricket, encourage the youngest of their communities to `play at cricket'. Play is the operative word, for children learn through informal play. On the streets of Canada we see basketball hoops, portable ice hockey nets, roller blades, scooters and bicycles, which is evidence that not all of our children are glued to a screen. The challenge is to harness this youthful play to the development of cricket. The challenge is also to the administrators to bring Canadian youth to the national level of play, and not be so reliant on new Canadians who have learned their cricket elsewhere. The Manitoba Cricket Association has successfully introduced the game to 14 Junior High and Senior High schools. There is also a Saturday league run for the schools and a week long summer camp for Juniors aged 7 to 19 years.(John Lovelace:2001).
The ranks of Canadian cricketers have produced one Government of Canada Cabinet Minister. Donald (Thumper) Macdonald, was Government House Leader, Minister of Defence, and Finance Minister, between 1968-1977. One of Thumper's last games was in a match to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Toronto Cricket Club in 1977, in which this writer stood as an umpire.
Bradman's record of highest individual score in Canadian cricket was broken in 1990 when Don Maxwell set a new national batting record of 280 not out for York University Cricket Club. Maxwell's record still stands.
One day international cricket has recently been played at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, between India vs. Pakistan, West Indies vs. India, and West Indies vs. Pakistan. The enthusiastic capacity crowds demonstrated both the passion for the game, and the excitement of watching international heroes, (Akram, Lara, Tendulkar). There was a discernible sense of fun and enjoyment, with the crowds making their own imprint on the occasion. The critical mass of numbers obviously exists to make these matches worthwhile, even though they were designed for television audiences many thousands of miles away.
In conclusion it is "right to stress the impact of immigration during the third quarter of the 20th century, when thousands of Commonwealth families settled in this country. The initial wave gave cricket such a boost that Canada succeeded in reaching the Final Eight in the World (Prudential) Cup in 1979. Our team on that occasion included only one indigenous Canadian and was dominated by West Indians! The second generation of new Canadians, however, have gravitated to more traditional North American sports and cricket is no longer as popular (or as well-played) here as it was during 1975-85."(K.S.).
The American cultural influence, which in part originally brought cricket to Canada, continues today. Currently there is a growing interest in cricket in the U.S.A., albeit commercially driven, which may foster more north/south competition for cricket, and that too is consistent with Canada's history.
A different kind of immigrant has more recently had an influence on Canadian cricket. The following is quoted from the UBC web site. "The University of British Columbia Cricket Club, brings together a talented combination of local Canadian players and cricketers from around the world, who have come to Vancouver to continue their studies. The cultural diversity of Canada contributes to the high level of cricket played, evident in the British Columbia Mainland Cricket League. The UBC Cricket Club has been a member of the League for over 60 years.". It should be noted that York University, Toronto, has a cricket field, which is well used by student cricketers and the local community of new Canadians.
Canada has been visited many times by cricketers from many nations in the last 161 years. It is fitting therefore that the disparate representation of peoples, making up the teams participating in the 2001 ICC Trophy tournament, beautifully reflects the rainbow of modern Canada. Given that Toronto is credited with being the most multicultural city in the world, it follows that the location of the tournament is particularly appropriate. Good luck, keep playing with a straight bat, and may the best team win.
Jon Harris 2001
Acknowledgments for assistance and advice.
Keith A.B. Sandiford, a former Professor of History at the University of Manitoba, has written several books and articles about the first class game.
Kevin Boller has written extensively about Canadian cricket.
Deb V. Das has written "History of Cricket from 700 to 1700 AD", "Cricket in America" and "Cricket for Baseball Players". He was formerly Chairman of the Seattle Cricket Club
Professor Mike Andrews, University of Alberta.
David Liverman, Geological Survey of Newfoundland, Canadian Cricket Association webmaster.
Barrie Hayne, a former Professor of English at the University of Toronto. John Lovelace, President, Manitoba Cricket Association.