Feb. 4, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the sixth in a series of eight feature articles prepared for Heritage Week, Feb. 8 - 15. Entitled Spotlight on our Heritage, this series is a reflection upon the people, places and collections of New Brunswick's past. This article was prepared by the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. For more information on Heritage Week, visit the Heritage Week 2010 website.
And they are off…riding, running, rowing, throwing, shooting and scoring. Name the sport and New Brunswickers have played or watched it. People have been gathering at the track, boxing ring, baseball diamond, and rink since the province's earliest days.
In the 1790s, fans in Saint John gathered for beachfront horse races that boasted all the pomp and pageantry of a day at the derby. Refreshment and betting tents and crowds in the hundreds were all part of the festive atmosphere.
That same atmosphere prevailed at rowing competitions and sailing regattas held along New Brunswick's teeming waterways in the 1830s. Even commercial steamships got into the act, racing one another along the St. John River.
Away from the waterfront, baseball was the game in the mid-1800s. Clubs and teams thrived, with inter-city and inter-provincial teams battling it out. Fans travelled from across the province to cheer on their favourite teams.
In the winter, equally large crowds gathered to watch speed skating races. The sport flourished through the 1880s and into the first quarter of the 20th century. At the height of its popularity, massive crowds gathered on the shores of Lily Lake near Saint John to watch races. It was a period dominated by Hugh McCormick, Charles Gorman and Willie Logan.
In 1922, these renowned skaters competed on Lily Lake at the Canadian Amateur Speed Skating Championships. They did again at the same place during the 1923 International Outdoor Championship in the presence of Miss Canada 1923, Winifred Blair of Saint John. She was one of 20,000 roaring fans. A year later, 25,000 spectators turned out to see Gorman, New Brunswick's first winter Olympian, win the world championship.
Baseball attracted a great deal of interest in the 1930s, particularly during the historic day in 1934 when, for the first time, a major league team played in Canada. A crowd of 5,000 turned out in St. Stephen on July 14 for the event, to watch the hometown Kiwanis take on the Boston Braves (today's Atlanta Braves). The event was considered so significant it was made a one-time public holiday in the town.
A large crowd was also in attendance when history of another kind was made in 1979, at the first Acadian Games, staged on the 375th anniversary of Acadia. Huge crowds were on hand in 1985, when New Brunswick hosted its first Canada Summer Games in Saint John. People gathered again when Bathurst-Campbellton hosted Canada Winter Games 2003, with hundreds of athletes competing in 21 sports.
Historic gatherings also occurred for hockey games, including in 2002 when Plaster Rock hosted the first World Pond Hockey Championship. The event brought together 48 teams, 1,000 spectators and 100 volunteer organizers.
These historic moments are celebrated and preserved at the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. The hall makes history of its own at its annual gala dinner, during which a new list of inductees is formally inscribed. The 2008 gala marked the 40-year mark and brought the list of individual honored members to a total of 641. This year's ceremony will take place June 5.
To see portraits and exhibits devoted to the most recent inductees, and some of their 635 predecessors, visit the Sports Hall of Fame at 503 Queen St., Fredericton, or visit online.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Elizabeth Joubert, communications, Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport, 506-457-6445; Jamie Wolverton, executive director, New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, 506-453-8930.