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CROW, NORTON HERVEY, civil servant and amateur sports leader; b. 6 July 1878 in Pelham Township, Ont., eldest son of Judson Comfort Crow, a schoolteacher, and Casandria Marie Pettee; m. Ella McKinley Harriman, and they had a daughter; d. 14 Sept. 1929 in Toronto.

Of Presbyterian, loyalist background on the Niagara peninsula, Norton Crow went to Toronto about 1898 to become a clerk in the provincial treasurer’s office. After building an outstanding reputation in baseball and speed skating with the Central Young Men’s Christian Association – a bastion of “muscular Christianity” – he was drawn into volunteer sports leadership during the “amateur wars” of 1906–9. Sportsmen were bitterly divided over whether athletes should be paid for their efforts. The idea of non-payment (amateurism), which had emerged from the aristocratic Victorian prejudice against wage labourers, reinforced the ideal of heroic, selfless play that attracted the middle class to sports, and it kept costs down. The practice of paying athletes (professionalism) grew out of carnival contests, stakes races (the structure of the championships won by Jacob Gill Gaudaur*, Edward Hanlan*, and William Joseph O’Connor*), and team sports such as baseball where recruiting better players with cash gave a ready advantage.

These differences made the Toronto-based Canadian Amateur Athletic Union, the association of clubs which attempted to regulate the main sports, ungovernable. In 1906 the liberal faction, led by the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, stormed out of the Union to form the Amateur Athletic Federation of Canada, which would allow a measure of professional-amateur cooperation along the lines of that found in American baseball and British soccer. During the next few years, while athletes, sportswriters, and fans argued on, Union and Federation leaders stumped the country to win adherents.

Norton Crow was an ardent, bedrock amateur. As secretary of the CAAU, he had quickly become a leader of the amateurs’ campaign, along with newspaperman John Ross Robertson*, sportswriters Francis Nelson* and William Abraham Hewitt*, police chief William Stark, and lawyer James George Bowes Merrick, all of Toronto. Though they out-organized their rivals, making strict amateurism the ruling orthodoxy, a truce was arranged in September 1909. Crow became the secretary of the amalgamated body formally created in November, the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada, and soon emerged as its driving force.

Crow was convinced that amateur sport could instil in participants a disciplined sense of citizenship and a love of Canadian institutions. He set out to take this vision into the Maritimes, Ontario’s hinterland, and the western provinces, where the CAAU had had little influence, and bring the most popular sports under the control of the AAUC. In addition to stepping up its efforts to send strong teams to Olympic and other international competitions, he would help it restore sports activity throughout Canada after World War I. When, as a result of a western lobby, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association was formed in 1914 to confront professionalism, Crow, the disciple of amateurism, was chosen as its first secretary.

Crow’s plan for realizing his goals, set out in public statements and voluminous annual reports, called for new facilities, the expansion of physical education in schools, the training of coaches and other leaders, and the staging of “Canadian Olympics,” in which amateur championships would be held every four years. First envisaged by Crow in 1910, these games would, he believed, kindle at home the enthusiasm that the Olympics had created throughout the world since their launch in 1896. After observing the value of sports to the war effort, he and his colleagues began a concerted effort to bring about federal and provincial ministries of sports. Despite his enthusiasms, Crow was never a keen promoter of women in sport, though by 1924 he was forced to recognize that female competition, especially in track and field, had to be reckoned with [see Velma Agnes Springstead]. In 1924 Crow, who had managed Canada’s team at the Festival of Empire Games in London in 1911, proposed “an All-British Empire Games, to be held between the Olympic Games,” to provide another incentive for Canadian athletes, stimulate opportunities within the dominion, and foster national pride.

In 1920, in his position as a treasury clerk, Crow had been asked to draft provincial legislation for the regulation of boxing (previously prohibited but much liked by war veterans) and the promotion of amateur sport. The Ontario Athletic Commission Act provided for the implementation of many of Crow’s ideas, including the development of coaches, the creation of a provincial training centre near Orillia, more physical education in schools, and the subsidization of amateur organizations. This act would be an important precedent for the federal Fitness and Amateur Sport Act of 1961.

Unfortunately, Norton Crow saw few of these projects come to fruition. In 1925, pressed by his new duties as principal clerk of the treasury, enervated by his father’s sudden death during the inaugural service of the United Church of Canada, and in failing cardiovascular health, he suddenly retired from the AAUC. He died four years later, just 51. In 1932 the AAUC created the Norton Crow Memorial Award for the amateur athlete of the year; it continues to be given, to the outstanding male athlete, at the Canadian Sports Awards. Crow’s initiatives and thinking can be readily recognized in the Commonwealth Games (begun in 1930) and the Canada Games (1967), and in today’s sports sciences and the national coaching certification program.

Bruce Kidd

AO, RG 80-2-0-120, no.33209; RG 80-5-0-66, no.6130. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (Toronto), letter from Ella Crow to Douglas Fisher, 1966. Toronto Daily Star, 16 Sept. 1929. Canadian annual rev., 1909: 313–15. Directory, Toronto, 1898–1925. Bruce Kidd, “‘Making the pros pay’ for amateur sports: the Ontario Athletic Commission, 1920–1947,” OH, 87 (1995): 105–28; The struggle for Canadian sport (Toronto, 1996).

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Cite This Article

Bruce Kidd, “CROW, NORTON HERVEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crow_norton_hervey_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crow_norton_hervey_15E.html
Author of Article:   Bruce Kidd
Title of Article:   CROW, NORTON HERVEY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   June 15, 2024