The earliest known reference to cricket in Canada is of matches played at Ile-SteHelene in the Province of Quebec in the year 1785 on the site where the Montreal Exposition buildings now stand. Historical records do not divulge when cricket was first played in Canada but it is generally assumed that the game was introduced into the country by British soldiers following the historic battle at the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City, between the armies of General Wolfe and General Montcalm in 1759.
The roots of Canadian cricket spring mainly from the regions of Upper Canada and in particular from around the little town of York, now known as Toronto, in the Province of Ontario. During the early years of the nineteenth century, the game was encourage in the town by George A. Barber, a young English schoolmaster. To-day he is considered to be the father of Canadian cricket.
Barber was a man of many talents, he was publisher of the Toronto Herald and also a master at Upper Canada College. In 1827, he helped found the prestigious Toronto Cricket Club and in 1829, played a large part in introducing cricket into the newly established college. It was Barber who instigated the historic series between the Toronto Cricket Club and Upper Canada College in 1836. These matches arestill played annually and through the years, both clubs have turned out a host of talented cricketers who have gone on to represent their country.
In the year 1844, Canada and the United States of America met in their first international at the St. George’s Club in New York on the site where the New York University Medical Centre is now located. This was over thirty years before the famed England versus Australia series began and historians believe the contest is the oldest international sporting fixture in the world.
George Parr brought the first touring team to Canada from England in 1859 and although the tourists were far too strong for the locals, the visit was a great success becoming the first cricket tour in history. A product of the tour was the fascinating book describing the adventure by Fred Lillywhite entitled, “The English Cricketers’ Trip to Canada and the United States”. It is one of the earliest books on the sport and is now a prize in any collector’s library.
By the time Canada became a nation in 1867, the game was so popular it was declared the national sport of the fledgling country by the first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald and his colleagues according to Canadian cricket historian, Donald King, in the columns of “The Canadian Cricketer” in April 1973. However, with the advancement of baseball in the United States following the Civil War (1861-65), cricket began to decline despite tours by Australian and English teams.
In 1872, the third English touring side arrived under the leadership of R.A. Fitzgerald, in the ranks was none other than the immortal Dr. W.G. Grace. The good doctor lived up to his colossal reputation by scoring a magnificent 142 against the Toronto Cricket Club. This innings was to stand for over one hundred years, as the highest individual effort by an English batsman in Canada, until eclipsed by David Gower at Winnipeg, against Manitoba, during the 1976 tour by the D.H. Robins XI.
During the same year, Toronto cricketer Ross McKenzie hurled a cricket ball 140 yards 9 inches to set a world record, twelve years later, Englishman Robert Percival achieved a distance of 140 yards 2 feet at Durham Sands racecourse but McKenzie’s mighty throw still ranks as the second greatest of all time.
The first Australian team to tour Canada was the 1878 side led by Dave Gregory. It included such greats as Charlie Bannerman, Fredrick Spofforth, W.L. Murdoch and John MacBlackham. In a match played at Montreal, Bannerman scored 125, it will be remembered he made 165 retired hurt in the first test match at Melbourne in 1877.
During these years of healthy cricket activity in the east, the game was spreading rapidly in the west. In 1864, the North West Cricket Club was formed in Winnipeg and in 1876, the famous Victoria Cricket Club was founded on the west coast. Following the formation of these two historical clubs, other teams appeared in the
Prairie Provinces and in Alberta and British Columbia. The game was now beginning to take a strong hold west of Ontario and the sport was being played nation wide.
In the summer of 1880, the first team to leave Canadian shores journeyed to England under the captaincy of Thomas Dale. The tourists were not considered to be official by local authorities and in addition, the side ran into several problems. Dale was arrested during the match against Leicestershire and accused of being a deserter from the British Army. The Rev. T.D. Phillips sailed from Canada and took control of the team, but unfortunately the tour collapsed and the hapless Canadians returned home.
The year 1887 saw the first official tour undertaken by a Canadian team. A capable side under the captaincy of Dr. E.R. Ogden toured the British Isles and took on several of the counties on level terms. The team far from disgraced itself recording wins over Ireland, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Edward Ogden who was an all-rounder had a sensational tour. He hit up scores of 98 against Durham and 133 against Hampshire and captured 9 for 83 against the M.C.C. at Lords.
In 1892, a major step forward was taken when the Canadian Cricket Association was formed to control the game on a national basis, one of the earliest provincial associations was that of Ontario which was formed in 1880. Other provinces followed including Manitoba 1895, Quebec 1902, Alberta and Saskatchewan 1910, British Columbia 1922, Nova Scotia 1967 and New Brunswick 1980.
During the eighteen nineties, the Canada versus United States matches surged to a new popularity with the emergence of the two greatest all-rounders in the history of North American cricket in John Barton (Bart) King of the United States and John M. (Jack) Laing of Canada. These two talented players dominated the local scene for almost twenty years and sizeable crowds gathered to see them play.
The performances of King with bat and ball were nothing short of spectacular, he humbled the best batsmen of England and Australia and in 1909 took all ten wickets for the gentlemen of Philadelphia in a fixture against Ireland to finish with 10 for 33. Three years earlier in 1906, he had scored a mammoth 344 not out for Belmont against Merion to set a North American batting record which still stands. The season before he had established the previous record when he scored 315 for Belmont against Germantown
John M. Laing appeared on a total of 13 occasions for Canada against the United States, Ireland, Australia and England. During his international career, he captured a total of 77 wickets with his fast swerving deliveries and experts of the day considered him to be world class.
In the match between the United States and Canada at Toronto in 1895, he devastated the American batting line-up to capture 7 for 21 in the first innings to record the first hattrick in the International Series when he clean bowled J.W. Sharp, S. Goodman and L.K. Mallinkrodt. The following year, he did even better when he captured 6 for 17 and 8 for 37 against the United States at Manheim, Pennsylvania to set a Canadian bowling record which has endured to the present day.
Laing was also a more than capable batsman and while playing for Wanderers Cricket Club against the Douglas Park Cricket Club in the Chicago competition in 1903, he scored 249 and with J.G. Davis 103 not out helped to establish a 4th wicket batting partnership record of 313 runs for North American cricket.
Although the clouds of war were gathering in Europe, Australia toured the United States and Canada in 1913 under the leadership of Austin Diamond and played a staggering total of 53 matches, experiencing one lone defeat at the hands of the Germantown Cricket Club of Philadelphia. The side contained several giants of the game including Charlie Macartney, Warren Bardsley, Arthur Mailey and Herbert Collins.
During a match against Vancouver, the Australians compiled 633 runs for the loss of 8 wickets to record the highest innings total ever achieved in Canadian cricket. At the other end of the scale the Winnipeg Cricket Association was dismissed for a meagre 6 runs against the visitors from Down Under to register what is believed to be the lowest innings total in Canadian representative cricket. At New York in 1846, the Canadian side was bundled out for a dismal 28 against the United States to record the lowest effort by the national side.
The talented Charlie Macartney enjoyed a spectacular tour scoring a total of 2390 runs at an average of 45.92 which included seven centuries, in addition, he bagged 189 wickets at an average of 3.81 runs apiece. This outstanding personal performance may never be eclipsed, as it is unlikely tours of such magnitude will be contemplated in the future.
With the coming of the Great War of 1914-18, the fortunes of Canadian cricket further waned. The International Series with America ceased in 1912 and twenty years were to elapse before another major cricket tour of the country took place. Following the Great War, the Hon. Norman Seagram who came from a prominent Canadian family gathered together a strong national side which included such Dominion stars as H.G. Wookey and C.R. (Sandy) Sommerville and carried out a most successful tour of England during the 1922 season.
In 1932, the Australians arrived under the captaincy of Victor Richardson. In later years, his grandsons, the Chappell brothers, Ian, Greg and Trevor were to become Australian cricket legends. The side contained several notable international players including Stan McCabe, Charles (Chuck) Fleetwood-Smith, Arthur Mailey and the famous Donald Bradman (later to become Sir Donald). The tour was most successful despite the ravages of the great depression. In a match against Western Ontario at Guelph, the masterful
Bradman scored 260. This innings stood for some 58 years as a Canadian record until it was surpassed by right-hand batsman, Don Maxwell when he scored 280 not out for the York University Cricket Club against the Commonwealth Cricket Club in the Toronto & District Cricket Association competition during the 1990 season.
During a match played at St. Catharines, Ontario between Ridley College and the tourists, L.C. (Clarke) Bell, a tall hard hitting left-hander scored 109 not out to record the only century against the 1932 Australians. Bell was to go on and become one of the finest batsmen in Canadian cricket history.
In the confines of a brief career, he scored a total of 16 centuries and his performances in the John Ross Robertson Trophy (symbol of club supremacy in Canada) were nothing short of spectacular. In a total of 25 visits to the batting crease, he scored 1401 runs, including 5 centuries, with a personal best of 193 not out for the Toronto Cricket Club against the Bell Telegraph Cricket Club in 1930. His final J.R.R. Trophy batting average was an impressive 70.05 runs per innings.
Sadly Clarke Bell was to die during World War II at the bloody Battle of Dieppe on August 19, 1942 just 3 days short of his 32nd birthday. His death came like a thunderbolt to the sporting fraternity of Toronto as he was a better than average boxer, rugby and ice hockey player and through the years had built up an array of admirers.
Another talented Canadian batsman the Australians encountered in 1932 was W.R.G. (Reg) Wenman of British Columbia. Wenman who was a dynamic right-hander was probably the most prolific rungetter in Canadian cricket. During a career which spanned some 40 years, he scored a record 37 centuries, including 3 centuries in 4 days at the Western Canada Tournament held at Regina in 1929. The only cricketer in North America to record more centuries than Reg. Wenman was the American John Barton King who scored 38.
Despite the hardships of the thirties, Canada undertook a most ambitious tour of England in 1936 under the captaincy of W.E.N. (Billy) Bell. The side was gathered together under the patronage of the Hon. R.C. Matthews who had been the Minister for National Revenue in the government of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. He was a pillar of strength to Canadian cricket for many years prior to World War II. The side made sporting history when they defeated the M.C.C. at Lords by 76 runs to record the first victory by Canada over an English XI.
One interesting member of the Canadian side of 1936 was all-rounder Lloyd Percivil who was an expert on physical fitness. In later years, the U.S.S.R. was to adopt his training techniques for ice hockey players which enabled the Soviets to rise to world prominence. Also on the team was his brother Gordon who in 1931 had recorded a century in 42 minutes while playing for the Yorkshire Cricket Club against the Rosedale Cricket Club in Toronto. The first 50 runs came in 17 minutes and he was finally dismissed for 177 runs compiled in just 80 minutes. Some years later in 1954, a third brother Allan toured England with the Canadian national side.
On the resumption of the Canada versus U.S.A. series at Toronto in 1963, Ontario batsman Ray Nascimento rattled up a sensational 176 runs to eclipse the old individual batting record of 111 set back in 1893 by the Rev. F.W. Terry. His prolific innings enabled Canada to reach a record total of 6 for 403 which stood until 1985 when Canada scored 8 for 437 also against the United States at Toronto. The greatest tally ever recorded in a single innings against Canada is 374 runs for the loss of 8 wickets, which was scored by a Jamaican XI against Canada at Kingston during the 1984 tour by the Canadian national team.
The most prominent personal batting performance against Canada occurred during the 1973 tour of North America by Ireland. In an international match played at Toronto, Irish right-hander Ivan Anderson scored a forceful 198 not out. To the present time this innings also rates as the finest by an Irish player on the international scene. The old record against Canada had been set by the great Australian all-rounder Charlie Macartney who made 186 for Australia against a combined Canada/U.S.A. XI at Toronto in 1913.
Three notable bowling feats in Canadian cricket worthy of a mention include the performance by F.M. Pellatt at Trinity College School, Port Hope in the province of Ontario, who took six wickets in six balls in 1890 and the sterling effort of Toronto player E. Attewell of the East Toronto Cricket Club who bagged 190 wickets for 615 runs at an average of 3.39 in 1894. The best personal performance ever recorded by a Canadian bowler appears to be the superb effort of C.A. Forbes who captured 10 wickets for 4 runs while playing for Trinity College against Upper Canada College in 1940.
On the international front, fast bowler Joel Bradbury of the Toronto Cricket Club, captured 9 wickets for 6 runs to skittle the United States for 32 runs at Toronto in 1854. To the present time, this is still the lowest innings total in the International Series by the United States against Canada. For over 150 years, Bradbury’s first name and bowling analysis remained a mystery until discovered by American cricket historian, David Creeth, in 1996. Bradbury played for Canada on three occasions but old records indicate he suffered from poor health and he quickly disappeared from the international scene.
It is not surprising that the bowling record against Canada in international cricket is held by Bart King. On a rainy afternoon at Philadelphia in 1906, King bowled superbly into a slight breeze to slice through the Canadian batsmen to capture 8 for 17. The famous King turned in several spectacular bowling performances during his illustrious career. During the 1908 tour of England by Philadelphia, he collected 87 wickets for 958 runs at an average of 11.01 to lead the first-class averages for the season and become the only North American player to achieve such a feat.
As migrants began to arrive in Canada from British Commonwealth countries, following World War II, the journey along the road to recovery began namely through the efforts of Lewis Gunn and Donald king, two stalwarts who worked tirelessly to improve the sport at the national level. They were ably supported by Charles D. (Charlie) Wilson, another keen enthusiast, who devoted over 50 years of service to cricket in Ontario.
Gunn gathered around him a keen group of cricket followers and along with C.C.A. President W.E.N. (Billy) Bell was responsible for the Canadian cricket playing provinces meeting for the first time in the newly constituted national championships at Toronto in 1947. The province of Ontario emerged victorious during the tournament and through the years has gone on to win the Bracht Trophy on a record total of 10 occasions.
Donald King carried on the good work commenced by Billy Bell, Lewis Gunn and Charlie Wilson and following discussions with United States officials, led by President John. I. Marder, the historic International Series between the two nations was revived at Toronto in 1963. In later years, John I. Marder was to write a most informative book on North American cricket entitled “The International Series, the history of the United States and Canada at cricket”.
During this busy period of revival, cricket tours once again became popular as they had been many years before and in 1954, H.B.O. (Basil) Robinson led Canada on a successful venture to England. Teams from overseas reappeared with visits from the M.C.C. In 1951 led by R.W.V. Robins and Pakistan in 1958 captained by Imtiaz Ahmed. The M.C.C. returned again in 1959 and 1967, led on both occasions by D.R.W. Silk. The 1967 tour was part of the Canadian Centenary Celebrations.
The 1975 Canadian season produced the sensation of the decade when Eastern Canada defeated the touring Australian World Cup side led by Ian Chappell at Toronto by five wickets. Hero of the Eastern Canadian victory in this one day match was Ontario batsman Franklyn Dennis who scored a fighting 57 not out against the Australian attack of Dennis Lillie, Max Walker and Allan Hurst. The stage was set early in this historic event when Canadian bowlers Jitu Patel, Rick Stevens and Roy Callender bowled competently to dismiss the powerful Australian side for a modest 159 runs to pave the way for victory.
During the first International Cricket Conference Trophy staged in England in 1979, Canada emerged as one of the top associate member countries and put up a great fight in the final against Sri Lanks at Worcester before going down by 60 runs. This creditable showing enabled Canada to advance into the 1979 World Cup where they performed admirably against the cricket might of England, Pakistan and Australia to establish itself as one of the leading amateur cricket playing nations of the world.
The most recent milestone in the history of Canadian cricket occurred on November 5, 1989 when the United Way Cricket Match held at the Toronto SkyDome between the West Indies and a Rest of the World XI drew a crowd of 40,570 to set a new attendance record for North America. It was also a bonanza for the United Way of Greater Toronto when a record total of $550,000 was raised for charity.
Since 1844, Canada has appeared on the field of international play against the following nations:
Australia Barbados Bermuda Denmark East & Central Africa England Guyana Holland Ireland Jamaica Pakistan Scotland United States Malaysia Bangladesh Sri Lanka Zimbabwe Papua-New Guinea Kenya Israel Hong Kong Gibraltar Fiji Singapore Namibia Antigua Montserratt United Arab Emirates St. Kitts & Nevis Dominica St. Lucia Grenada St. Vincent Trinidad & Tobago