Three sports have dominated the Newmarket sports scene over the years — softball, lawn bowling and lacrosse — enthralling our community over the last 180 years.
In the early days of our community, cricket was one of the most popular sports dating back to around 1859. Football and quoits (something like horseshoes, as players toss rings of metal, rope, or rubber at a stake, trying to get each ring to land with the stake through its centre or close to the stake) were extremely popular, but by the 1900s, the game of lacrosse seem to have replaced both.
According to a newspaper article, the favourite pastime of Alexander Muir (of Maple Leaf Forever fame) was playing quoits and, in September 1875, a championship game was played between Muir and Mr. Dobson from Barrie. The challenge came from Dobson, but after four or five rounds, it seems the challenger was being dominated by his Newmarket host, the score being Muir 61: Dobson 3.
Newmarket has certainly had its share of excellent sports teams throughout its history, including a strong cricket club in 1887, and in 1893, the football team won district honours. Our young men won the Juvenile Lacrosse Championship in 1909 and most of us remember that in 1933 our Newmarket hockey players brought the Dominion Junior Hockey Championship (Memorial Cup) to the town.
Let us begin our look at the various sports that were popular within the community and marvel at the variety and quality of the sports played, beginning with lawn bowling.
Newmarket’s first lawn bowling green was privately owned by Dr. Hutt, and was located behind his home on Main Street, the former Dales Building. The game soon became more popular and a public club was formed by T.H. and W.A. Brunton and a green was built on land where Loblaws once sat on Main Street.
Around 1909, W.R. Fergus established a local competition, and a trophy was donated by T.H. Lennox, our local MP. In 1914, P.W. Pearson donated land at what is now Lions Club Park and the present green was created. Newmarket belonged to the Northern Bowling League, which was to become the Ontario Lawn Bowling Association.
In 1917, a shield was presented at an annual competition between the Davis Leather Company and Office Specialty. In 1919, the current clubhouse was constructed and a committee consisting of H.B. Marshall, president, Aubrey Davis, W.H. Eves who was the mayor at the time, W.A. Brunton, P.W. Pearson, G.A. Binns, and R.F. Smith promoted and guided the club through its rapid growth locally.
A group of British bowlers visited Newmarket in 1921. For the occasion, a trophy was donated by E.G. Davis intended as the prize for the annual competition. E.N. Penrose donated a grove of beautiful cedar trees that still graces the property.
I remember that in the 1950s and 1960s, my grandpa and grandmother belonged to the club and local competition was fierce and participation was high. It should be noted that lawn bowling was our first organized sport, highly contested both locally and provincially.
There were great stories of our splendid lacrosse teams, particularly the old Talgoos who were to bring great honour to the town. Great players of the day were George Washington Robitaille, both a sportsman and a scholar, and Robert F. Manning, who is still called the Father of Lacrosse.
The Newmarket Talagoo Lacrosse Club was organized in 1888 and almost immediately began to participate in exhibition games with Barrie, Orillia, Beaverton and Markham. In 1892, all these teams joined the Canadian Lacrosse Association. A schedule was established, concluding with a provincial competition consisting of the group winners from other sections in Ontario.
An article in The Newmarket Era indicates the members of the first district championship team in 1909 consisted of: George Heise, Tom F. Doyle, James Lyons, Jack Kelly, Frank Shupe, James O’Neill, Charles Brunton, Edward Doyle, Cully Farnsworth, Walter C. Caine, Jack Doyle, Charles Montgomery, Eddie Murphy, Cy Broderick, A.A. Hollingshead and Robert Manning.
It seems that Newmarket perennially fielded a strong team in provincial competition and the team was followed with considerable enthusiasm locally.
Newmarket’s out-of-town games fell on a Wednesday and I am told that the whole town would shut down and they would take a chartered excursion train for 75 cents return to Barrie, or $1 return to Orillia to cheer on the Talagoo team to victory.
In 1905, the Talagoos won two district championships. In 1909, the Newmarket Talagoo Lacrosse team became Canadian champions.
So how popular was lacrosse in Newmarket? From 1888 on, the Talagoo Lacrosse Team enjoyed town-wide public support. Local youngsters, upon reaching the age of six, would be supplied with a gutted stick and would gather on a vacant field or perhaps at the fairgrounds where they could receive instruction on the art of stick handling.
The sport was a family affair, with their brothers and dads being their mentors and perhaps a little family competition was involved.
This encouragement and training resulted, as I indicated, in a very strong local team. In 1909, the juvenile team reached the provincial finals having won the district championship.
On an October day on Toronto Island, they defeated the Hesepler club, winning the Canadian championship.
Locals travelled down Yonge Street to Richmond Hill where they met the champions and escorted them back to Newmarket in glory where a huge party took place with the town band and tons of entertainment.
I have provided a photo of the members of the team, their names are as follows: Henri Racine, P. Epworth, Vern Lepard, Roy Staley, Joseph Ganton, Matt Mulroy, Frank Doyle, Cliff Knowles, N. Epworth, R. Anderson, Maurice McHale, William Haskett and Basil Fierheller.
I grew up watching the Ray’s Fast Ball team and the Lunny brothers dominate the sport. However, Newmarket has a long association with softball over the years.
In my research, I have read articles about the Doughpunchers, the Tannery Rats and the Southenders. These teams were part of a series of challenger games, played in the Canes’ log yard, on the Stuart Scott diamond and a diamond located back of Bolton’s Bakery on Main Street approximately where Broadbent’s Bakery was when I was a child.
Stories abound of a local pitcher named Freeman West who they say was unbeatable.
There had been ‘hardball’ dating back to pre-1900, but I am going to start my account with the early 1930s when Johnny Jones organized a competitive church league and really got things rolling. An intermediate team was formed in 1934 and they found success immediately, reaching the league finals their first year.
The team was made up of: A. Webster, Ben Wilson, Bob Peters, Ken Trivett, Murray Cock, Harvey Gibney, Harold Hilton, George Haskett, Cliff Giles, Bill Kitto and Charles VanZant.
In 1935, Newmarket won the Patterson Cup, defeating Allandale. They also won in 1936. 1937, 1938 and 1939, a juggernaut it seems.
Often forgotten are the great women’s teams that graced our sports scene. Women’s softball got its start about 1938, winning their first local championship in 1940. With the coming of the war, this crack squad was broken up but in 1946 they returned and dominated, winning 30 games under coach Ceegars McDonald.
In 1947, the women’s intermediate team went into Ontario competition, losing in the finals to Sarnia. More importantly, company teams at the Specialty, Tannery, Hoffmans, Sports and Cycle and Bell Telephone emerged. They tell me it was incredible softball to watch.
In 1949, the women won the Barrie and District championship. Then in 1953, the Legion team won the Intermediate B Legion championship and the intermediate women’s town team won the Ontario championship. They won the Ontario championship in 1955 and 1956, as well.
While I realize that this is but a brief taste of the full menu of Newmarket’s sporting memories, let me assure you that I will return to the topic in the months to come. We have the tennis, archery, bicycle, swimming, hardball, curling, and so many more great teams to talk about, as well as our hockey teams.
So, stay tuned to learn more about our sporting past in the future. Sports and the love of sports can help build community, bringing us together and making one proud of all those who excel.
Sources: The Newmarket Era; Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by Jack Luck; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Oral History Interviews conducted by The History Hound; The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1930 to 1950 by Eugene McCaffrey and George Luesby**********************
Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.