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Summer and Indoor Sports
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Together with brewer George SLEEMAN, Thomas GOLDIE, a businessman, politician, and sportsman, used baseball to win recognition for Guelph, Ont., and raise its prestige. This team sport allowed residents from different backgrounds to meet:

“During the heyday in the 1870s of Guelph’s Maple Leaf Base Ball Club, [Goldie] was its secretary. In 1869 it had won the Canadian championship and in 1874 it won the United States–Canada championship in Watertown, N.Y. Goldie’s brother John was one of the team’s star players during the early years. Thomas and the club’s president, George Sleeman*, a prominent brewer and future mayor of Guelph, were eager to capitalize on the popularity of the game to boost the image of the city. Their interest in associating sport with civic promotion was typical, according to sports historian William Humber, of an era ‘when leagues meant little, and the size of a town meant less than the promotional elan of some local patron who wanted to put his town on the map.’ During the early days of baseball in Guelph, the sport reflected the varied social composition of the city. It was a great social equalizer as young men from prominent and privileged families, such as Goldie’s sons, played with those from families with less means. The Guelph champions of 1869 included ‘locally born machinists, as well as a butcher, a tinsmith, a miller, and a Methodist clergyman.’”


The Mohawk raftsman, pilot, voyageur, and talented lacrosse player Jean-Baptiste CANADIEN, known as Big John Canadien, helped to draw attention to the sport beyond Canada’s borders:

“Big John is remembered as a man of daring deeds. In the late fall of 1859 he skated across Lac Saint-Louis and Lac des Deux Montagnes, from Caughnawaga to Oka (Kanesatake) and back. He excelled at lacrosse, the traditional sport of the Mohawk. In 1876, the year he was presented to Queen Victoria, and again in 1888 he was captain of the Caughnawaga lacrosse team, which in both years toured England with the Montreal Shamrocks, playing exhibition matches. He organized trips to shoot the Lachine rapids (on three occasions on New Year’s Day) in a wooden boat he had built himself. He would take with him two Mohawk and two other passengers eager for the adventure. In recognition of his exploits, one of the Lachine rapids has been named Big John.”


Blackfoot Indian API-KAI-EES excelled at long-distance foot-racing, a sport very popular with gamblers:

“A nephew of Blackfoot head chief Crowfoot [Isapo-muxika*], Api-kai-ees had developed a local reputation for long-distance running on the Blackfoot Indian Reserve (Alta) by 1884 when he was discovered by a Calgary syndicate interested in professional running. Foot-races of all kinds were a popular form of entertainment and gambling, in which local champions would pit themselves against travelling professionals from as far away as Great Britain. Api-kai-ees ran in minor races from 1884 to 1886 when an indoor track was built in Calgary. That year he defeated professional runner James Green and a Blackfoot runner, Little Plume, in a four-day ‘go as you please’ endurance race. He completed 84 miles and 6 laps during the allotted 16 hours. Following this dramatic success Api‑kai‑ees was given the professional name Deerfoot, used in the 1860s by Ha-ga-sa-do-ni, a Seneca Indian who had set several world records in foot-races at the Crystal Palace in London, England.”

Shortly after his death in 1930, Toronto lawyer Dyce Willcocks SAUNDERS was described as the “dean of Canadian cricket” because of his long and close involvement as both a player and administrator in the sport:

“After coming to Toronto, [Saunders] had continued his interest in cricket, as a wicketkeeper for both the Guelph Cricket Club and the Toronto Cricket Club, his sporting home for over 40 years. Cricket was a gentlemen’s sport, the preserve largely of a male elite who supported a code that eschewed professionalism. Contests between local clubs were social affairs; greater importance was attached to international contests, called test matches.… In 1887 he and fellow lawyer and TCC member George Goldwin Smith Lindsey assembled an all-star Canadian team for a tour of England, which they chronicled in a book written largely for insiders. The ‘gentlemen of Canada’ had embarked ‘to learn upon the English cricket fields by the lesson of experience the best features of the good old game.’ In doing so they hoped to ‘inaugurate a new era in Canadian Cricket.’ Saunders, who participated in 17 of the team’s 19 matches between 30 June and 27 August (five wins, five loses, nine draws), finished with the second-highest batting average on the squad, 23.58 runs per inning. He would take part in another tour of England in 1922. The ‘new era’ in cricket at home did not happen, however. The continued play of the game for elitist recreation and socialization meant that it would not become widely popular in Canada.”


The weightlifter Louis CYR was one of the heroes of the French Canadian strong-man cult in the 19th century. This phenomenon’s roots can be found, in part, in the force of the contemporary colonization movement in Quebec and, some believe, in the minority status of French Canadians in North America [see Joseph MONTFERRAND]. Cyr performed his extraordinary feats both in Quebec and on the international stage:

“Around 1888 Cyr bought a tavern on Rue Notre-Dame in Montreal, where he did a few feats of strength to amuse his customers. But he felt most at home on stage, and within a year he resumed touring with his own show, which included his wife and his brother Pierre. He travelled across Canada and the United States. In 1890 he joined an American troupe and he earned a growing reputation as the strongest man in the world. In the autumn of the following year he left for Europe, where he wanted to defend this title. He performed mainly in England, but the great champions did not dare challenge him and conceded him the title.”


Scottish Canadians also had their sports heroes who demonstrated their strength and other athletic abilities at competitions that brought together members of the Scottish community. Thanks to his exploits at Highland games, policeman and detective Hugh McKINNON became a North American celebrity:

“[McKinnon] was six feet three inches and 225 pounds with a reputation for prowess in Highland games of strength. Caledonian games had grown in popularity across North America and Scotland [see Roderick McLennan]; it was McKinnon’s good fortune to dominate during their zenith in the 1870s. In 1875, for instance, at the international games in Toronto, he was the ‘best general athlete.’ He then toured the United States; in August the New York World reported the exploits of ‘the celebrated athlete from Hamilton’ in events such as throwing the hammer and the 56-pound weight, putting the stone, and tossing the caber in the games held at Brooklyn. In August 1876 he won the North American championship at Charlottetown; he repeated his performance at Philadelphia the following year, and then retired.”


Before volunteering for what he considered “the ultimate sport” – combat flying above the battlefields of France – John Bernard BROPHY was an accomplished athlete who performed on the ice, the track, and the field. Despite similarities in their terminology, the kind of football he played at the onset of the 1910s was distinct from British rugby, a sport whose evolution in North America gave rise to Canadian and American football:

“At Ottawa Collegiate Institute his academic standing dropped as his athletic reputation rose: [Brophy] scraped through while representing the school in several sports, including football, hockey, baseball, and track. In his senior year Don, as he became known, was the champion all-round athlete.

“Despite his academic weakness, in 1913 he was courted for his talents in football by McGill University and the University of Toronto. He chose McGill and immediately made its varsity team. After failing his first year, he returned to Ottawa, took a menial job with the Department of the Interior, and played for Ottawa in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union. There was talk of his attending the University of Toronto, but the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 presented an attractive alternative. For romantics of his generation, war was sport writ large. War in the air seemed like the ultimate sport, and Brophy decided to become a military aviator.…

“He died on 24 December [1916] in a flying accident when his BE 12 failed to recover from a loop.”

You can learn more about different summer and indoor sports, their participants, supporters, and spectators, from the list of biographies that appear below:


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