Library and Archives Canada Blog

Library and Archives Canada Blog

From humble beginnings to making history in Montreal

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Long before unforgettable Canadian baseball moments, such as Joe Carter’s World-Series-winning home run, the emotion and pride Canadians felt as our national anthem was performed for the first time at a Major League Baseball (MLB) game, and Jose Bautista’s iconic bat flip, baseball already had a strong presence in Canada. While many of us consider baseball a North American sport, it actually has its origins in the European bat-and-ball game played by British schoolkids known as rounders. Variations of baseball were being played in Canada at least three decades before Confederation. The first documented account of the game, however, comes from Beachville, Ontario, on June 4, 1838. Southwestern Ontario was where the game was most prominent in these early days.

A black-and-white photograph of an outdoor baseball field with a game underway. The crowd watches from the packed stands. The background shows the buildings of the cityscape.

A baseball game at Tecumseh Park between the International League’s London Tecumsehs and the Stars of Syracuse in 1878. Now called Labatt Park, it is the world’s oldest continually operating baseball grounds, opening on May 3, 1877. It was designated a heritage site in 1994 (MIKAN 3261769)

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball game from behind home plate. A player is at the plate as a pitch comes in. The umpire stands behind him to make the call.

Hanlan’s Point Stadium on Toronto Island in 1917, the first home of the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club. It was also where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run while playing for the Providence Grays (MIKAN 3384487)

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball stadium, taken from the vantage point of the right field bleachers. The bleachers and the field, including the diamond and outfield, are visible.

View from the outfield stands at Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto. Built in 1927 for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, it was built to replace Hanlan’s Point Stadium (MIKAN 3327476)

The first official Canadian baseball team was formed as a result of efforts by William Shuttleworth, who was known as the father of Canadian baseball. The first pioneering team, comprised of various working class men from around Hamilton, was called the Young Canadians. For the next two decades, teams adhering to different rules sprouted up all over Canada. As the popularity of the sport soared, businessmen sponsored their favourite teams as a way to promote their products, and the Canadian Association of Baseball Players was founded. At this time, rather than competing nationally, many local baseball clubs competed cross-border with their closest American neighbours. By 1913, there were 24 minor league teams in Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of 10 children wearing baseball uniforms. The jerseys read "Pages" across the front. The boys are sitting and standing with bats, gloves and other baseball equipment. Behind the boys stands an adult man, wearing a suit and hat. The background is a studio backdrop showing trees.

House of Commons “Pages” baseball team, circa 1900. Baseball was enjoyed by people of all ages in Canada. It was seen as a great way to develop team skills and it was common for companies and their staff to form teams, such as these young men who worked on Parliament Hill (MIKAN 3549043)

First World War

Sports were an important part of everyday life in Europe for Canadian troops during the First World War. They served as a way to break the monotony of the troops’ duties and relieve stress. The leadership saw sports as a way of keeping the men out of trouble and boosting their morale while they stayed physically fit. Baseball became so beloved by soldiers that it was even sponsored by the government. In April 1916, the government held a fundraiser with the proceeds going towards baseball equipment.

A black-and-white photograph of a player sliding into home plate. The catcher is standing over the base while the umpire makes the call. A crowd of soldiers cheers them on.

member of the Canadian team slides into home as troops cheer him on in 1917. Baseball was immensely popular with troops and games were held regularly during down time (MIKAN 3384451)

Second World War

During the Second World War, baseball continued to be a favourite pastime of troops. With the Americans’ arrival in 1942, there were suddenly plenty of other teams against which to compete. As was the case in the early days of the game back at home, Canada-versus-the-US games were commonplace. One of the most memorable games occurred at Wembley Stadium on August 3, 1942, with 6,000 cheering fans in the stands. The Canadian troops defeated US Army Headquarters, 5 to 3.

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball game. A player stands with a bat and behind him are a catcher and an umpire. In the background are players watching the play and spectators in the stands.

A game between Canadian and US servicemen in August 1942 at Wembley Stadium in London, England, a venue that held many baseball games during the Second World War (MIKAN 3211157)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in work clothes and a headscarf swinging a baseball bat at a ball. She stands in a vacant lot with industrial buildings and other structures in the background.

It wasn’t just those contributing to the war efforts overseas who enjoyed baseball during the war years. Here, a woman from an ammunition factory in Toronto joins a game on her break (MIKAN 3195852)

Upon returning to Canada, many soldiers spoke fondly of the baseball games and continued playing and watching back home. While Canadians played many sports during war times, none was played as often or to such an enthusiastic audience as baseball.

Jackie Robinson

In 1945, the young Negro Leagues player Jackie Robinson was approached by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. Shortly after that initial, secret meeting it was announced that Robinson had signed a contract with the organization. The plan was to find the path of least resistance to his race to ease him into the Majors. The first step was to assign Robinson to spring training in Florida then ease him into professional baseball in Montreal with the team’s triple-A affiliate. Montreal was a deliberate selection, a city in which Rickey believed Robinson could get acclimated to baseball with less of a negative experience than he likely could in many American cities. However, during that first spring, in 1946, Robinson experienced unrelenting racism. In Sanford, Florida, the sheriff stepped onto the field and cancelled an exhibition game because African Americans were not allowed to compete with white players.

Montreal was a more welcoming city for Jackie and his wife Rachel. While still not without incident, the city and its fans embraced him. In his first and only season in Montreal, Jackie helped lead the team to an exceptional record of 100 wins and only 54 losses.

Learn more about Jackie Robinson’s groundbreaking career.

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball player rounding the bases as a player on the opposing team tries to catch up to him.

Jackie Robinson in Florida for spring training in 1946. Fans loved the way he sped around the diamond mesmerizing crowds, stealing a remarkable 40 bases during his first and only season in the minors, including many at home plate (MIKAN 3574533)

From humble beginnings in southwestern Ontario to a favourite wartime activity to the city of Montreal embracing Jackie Robinson, by the middle of the 20th century baseball had captured the heart of the nation. Still, Canada’s love of baseball was about to take on new heights. With Major League Baseball on its way, more Canadians than ever would soon fall in love with the game.

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Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival technician in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team now on Flickr

This collective passport includes the photographs of, and information about, 19 men from the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers who were on Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team. They departed on January 8, 1948, for the United States of America, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and returned to Canada as gold medalists on April 8, 1948.

An image of Page 2 of the collective passport for Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team, issued by the Department of External Affairs. This page displays the photographs of, and information about (names, place of birth, date of birth, citizenship), Frank George Boucher, Hubert Brooks, Bernard Francis Dunster and Roy Austin Lowe Forbes.

Collective Passport Certificate of the 19 members of the Olympic Hockey Team: Boucher to Watson. Page 2, 1948 (MIKAN 4842034)

An image of Page 6 of the collective passport for Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team, issued by the Department of External Affairs. This page displays visas, and entry and exit stamps, from France, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

Collective Passport Certificate of the 19 members of the Olympic Hockey Team: Boucher to Watson. Page 6, 1948 (MIKAN 4842034)

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John Armstrong Howard, Canada’s first Black Olympian

By Judith Enright-Smith

The 1912 summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden, from May 5 to July 27 was a venue for many firsts. This fifth Olympiad, comprised of 2,408 athletes from 28 nations, was the first to showcase women’s swimming and diving events as well as the men’s pentathlon. It was the first Olympics to use electronic timing and the first occasion a team from Asia (Japan) competed at the games. For Canada, the 1912 summer Olympics meant another first—the first Canadian Black athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.

John Armstrong Howard was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on October 6, 1888. Howard was a qualified mechanic and played baseball for Winnipeg’s Crescent Creamery Baseball Club; at 6 foot 3 inches tall, he was also an exceptional sprinter. He handily qualified for the 1912 Olympics and was looked upon not only in sporting circles but also in the Canadian media as the nation’s best hope for bringing home a gold medal.

Walter Knox was coach of the 1912 Canadian Olympic Track and Field Team. During training, Knox and Howard had several disputes and confrontations. Knox described Howard as outspoken and disobedient and, at a time when discrimination against Black athletes was common, recommended he be fired from the team for “insubordination.” It was only through the intervention of the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada that Howard remained on the team.

While en route to Sweden, Howard faced discriminatory and prejudicial treatment, an affront endured by people of colour in that time. Before setting sail from Montreal, he was barred from the hotel where the other athletes were staying, and while on board, he had to eat his meals in a different dining area away from his teammates.

Once in Stockholm, the cumulative stress of his interactions with Knox manifested itself in the form of severe stomach complaints. At the games, Howard’s health issues seriously hindered his efforts and he was defeated in the semi-finals of the 100- and 200-metre sprint. However, once back home, Howard redeemed himself at the 1913 Canadian Outdoor Championships by winning every race he entered.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Howard went overseas in 1917 as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He worked in various English army hospitals carrying stretchers. His military records show that he suffered from chronic lung ailments. While overseas, Howard met Edith Lipscomb. Edith returned to Winnipeg with Howard in 1920 where they were married. They attempted to set up house in Ste. Rose du Lac, but experienced much hostility and prejudice as an interracial couple. Howard’s granddaughter, Valerie Jerome, tells of townspeople pelting the couple’s car with stones to drive them away. Eventually they settled near the Crane River Indian Reserve on the northwest shore of Lake Manitoba. The couple had three daughters, but the marriage did not last. Howard later died from pneumonia at the age of 48.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of runners at the starting line. One is wearing a white shirt with a maple leaf on the front.

John Armstrong Howard at the Inter-Allied Games in Pershing Stadium, Paris, July 1919 (a006650)

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in athletic wear, surrounded by other men in similar attire or in uniforms, receiving a medal from an older man in military dress.

John Armstrong Howard receiving his bronze medal for the 100-metre event from the King of Montenegro, at the Inter-Allied Games in Pershing Stadium, Paris, July 1919 (a006626)

John Armstrong Howard’s athletic legacy lives on. Two of Howard’s grandchildren are Canadian athletes. Valerie Jerome is a sprinter who competed in the 1960 summer Olympics. Her brother Harry Jerome competed in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 summer Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 1964 in the 100-metre dash.


Judith Enright-Smith is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Nancy Greene now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene, winner of a gold medal in giant slalom.

Nancy Greene, winner of gold medal in giant slalom, Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029732)

Ms. Greene Raine is an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and a member of both Sports Halls of Fame. She was named Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century by the Canadian Press and Broadcast News. She won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and 1968. Her total of 14 World Cup victories (including the Olympics) is still a Canadian record. During her nine-year career she won a total of 17 Canadian Championship titles.

A black-and-white photograph of a group shot of the Canadian ski team at the Winter Olympics.

Group shot of the Canadian ski team at the Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029774)

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene during her gold medal run in giant slalom.

Nancy Greene during her gold medal run in giant slalom at the 1968 Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029785)

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene during her silver medal run in slalom.

Nancy Greene during her silver medal run in slalom at the Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029788)

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Images of Boxing now on Flickr

Boxing is the sport of fighting with padded, gloved fists in a square, roped-off ring under a set number of rounds and rules.

A black-and-white photograph of two boxers fighting on the deck of the SS Justicia, surrounded by the ship’s complement of soldiers.

Canadian troops aboard the SS Justicia, en route to Liverpool, England, watch a boxing match (MIKAN 3384735)

However, the first boxers in Canada did not use gloves. Bareknuckle fisticuffs were the norm during the early 19th century, with some bouts lasting 40 rounds. Outside of the military and a few men’s clubs, boxing was not sanctioned in the provinces of Canada, as the sport did not have a great reputation for fair play or honest promotion. Respectability for the sport came slowly, and views changed during the 1890s. The popularity of the sport grew steadily during the early 20th century.

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers boxing. One wears black trunks and the other wears white trunks. Soldiers outside the ring watch the match.

Soldiers boxing in the exhibition grounds (MIKAN 3384740)

A black-and-white photograph of middleweight boxer Edwin A. Harris (Canada) in his trunks and gloves, posing with another soldier.

Edwin A. Harris (Canada), middleweight finalist in boxing, at the Inter-Allied Games, Pershing Stadium, Paris, France (MIKAN 3384730)

Today, the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association oversees the sport in coordination with 10 provincial and three territorial boxing associations. Some athletes eventually turn to professional boxing, while others retain their amateur status with the intent to represent Canada in international events, such as the Olympics or Commonwealth Games.

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