History of the A's
1918 - Our Professionals Come Home
The door slammed shut with the announcement..."TORONTO, April 18 - The Ontario Amateur Lacrosse league at last night's meeting refused to consider the scheme to allow professionals to play with amateurs in the senior series."
The game was in turmoil.
It was 1918...Canada was entrenched in a stalemate war in Europe and an ambitious commitment to mobilize 600,000 solders for King and Empire had led Prime Minister Robert Borden to endorse the ground-shaking and country-splitting legislation of conscription...a draft of much of the remaining pool of eligible young men. For years, the all-volunteer Canadian expeditionary forces had shipped many thousands of our lads into the muddy trenches of France and Belgium, but now in these stormy, climactic Great War days of 1918, even more were in desperate need. And the call went out.
The contribution of the lacrosse boys throughout the war years was much the same as the rest of the country...massive. So much so that the sport was left with a serious manpower shortage just as it found itself sliding towards irrelevance. To be honest, the fading of our once beloved national pastime was witnessed even before the war started in 1914...with professionalism and "rowdyism" cited most often as the factors. In the few years just before our young nation's patriotic call-to-arms, the pro lacrosse game had become edgier and harsher as stick-swinging, bottle throwing, fans rioting, police and courtroom activities, and medical emergencies became a growing part of the newspaper accounts of the games. Decline and then stagnation, but in 1918 there was still a small but passionate drive to turn back the clock and return lacrosse to its former prominence in mainstream culture.
One solution presented for the shortage of players was to permit the fellows who had once played professionally in the National Lacrosse Union or for the free-spending Con Jones of Vancouver, to line-up alongside the current supply of young, inexperienced (and as yet militarily un-drafted) amateurs. This mixing of the "old" pros and the "young" amateurs could provide the material to build a competitive and entertaining league, and just maybe, resurrect a game that was clearly headed for obscurity. But in 1918, a vocal contingent of traditionalists would maintain that the professional, "mercenary" athlete was the real cause of the sport's demise...with the escalation of win-at-all-cost violence, the disruptive raiding of grass-root talent from small-town lacrosse centres, and even the eventual collapse of some of the pro teams as financial losses set in from the weight of their own spending recklessness. For those traditionalists, this was all the evidence they needed that purely amateur sport was the only possible answer. And any paid athlete of the past or present must be made an example of.
The war years had brought the disappearance of lacrosse teams everywhere, and by the spring of 1918, the N. L. U. seemed destined to limp along with just two Montreal-based teams, the Nationals and the Irish-Canadians, along with a young team formed in Ottawa. Gone were the famous Torontos and Tecumsehs of the better days of Hanlon's Point lacrosse, and the once strong Toronto Rosedales of the renegade Dominion Lacrosse Union. Even the legendary and once dynastic Montreal Shamrocks were gone.
Out west, the defending Minto Cup champion New Westminster Salmonbellies had so many of their boys now in khaki that they seemed unable to even field a team. But sport entrepreneur Con Jones in Vancouver persuaded the 'Bellies to play on for "patriotic purposes" with any players that they had available, and he even promised to bank-roll it all. New Westminster agreed to an eight-game round of exhibitions, but then later protested the Vancouver claims to the Minto Cup title for 1918.
While in Ontario senior, the puritanical O. A. L. A. with their "simon-pure" amateurs felt reasonably sure that they could count on the Beaches of Toronto to form a team after a few years of championship junior teams, but then finding some opposition to build a league seemed like a daunting task. Eventually a cross-town team called the Riverdales were formed, and it was a two-team battle for the Globe Shield senior title.
THE IRISH IN ST. CATHARINES
Throughout all of this, small-town St. Catharines would waver but never completely lose touch with the ancient game, and continued to be an oasis in the lacrosse desert...the inertia of a long history. A history sparked by Irish immigrants who came to St. Catharines in the mid-1800's to cut and lay the stone for the construction of the Second Welland Canal, and in time, they would lead the growth of lacrosse in this emerging community. Here is where they discovered a proud Native game that comfortably contained some elements similar to their ancestral Gaelic ball and stick game of Hurling. Irish toil built a canal that brought local growth and prosperity, and then in their hours of recreation, the pastime they embraced would contribute to the very spirit and soul of a community.
There was a time in the late 19th-century that lacrosse was as much a part of the identity of St. Catharines as were gardens and orchards, mills and manufacturing, and steamships and electric streetcars. Lacrosse in St. Catharines would reach its apex in the early years of the new century...when thousands crowded into the Catherine Street lacrosse grounds to cheer on their “homebrews” as they upheld the pride of "St. Kitts"...or filed onto the steamer Lakeside or the Garden City for a day trip across a Great Lake to support the "Double Blues" at Toronto’s Hanlon Point or the Rosedale lacrosse grounds. Credit for much of this popularity was also owed to the extraordinary support of W. B. Burgoyne, the publisher of The Daily Standard, who made the exploits of the Athletics a leading story in his newspaper. This was truly a golden shining moment for the game.
A MOVEMENT BEGINS
By 1918, with the sun setting on a sport that once was so extraordinarily popular, and with the country's youth fighting and dying in distant lands, and with draft riots busting out in some corners of our own country, lacrosse suddenly arose from the ashes. And for a brief, fleeting moment; it provided a needed diversion. All of the best was not yet buried in the past...the famous Athletics of a gilded age were back.
The seed actually germinated in Toronto and it was in June that James Stevenson, once the guiding hand of the old N. L. U. Torontos and now of the junior Maitlands, proposed the idea of putting a team of former pros together for the purpose of raising funds. The Standard would report, "The Maitlands, while their team will include several professional players of former years, will be conducted for the good object of buying an artificial limb for one of their ex-members, a soldier named Hutt, who was overseas and lost his right leg."
A noble notion that gained momentum with each passing day as the players rallied to it, but then from that initial spark, an aching realization came to fruition that they didn't want to see the sport itself die. And from that, a lacrosse renaissance summer emerged with the sudden formation of a unique new league that embraced the return of some of the banished pros. The new Canadian Lacrosse Association was formed with just three teams...the Maitlands featuring the pick of aging talent from two former Toronto N. L. U. teams, the Leaside Indians composed of skillful Native players from the Caughnawaga/St. Regis area (and now in the employ of a large suburban Toronto munitions factory), and the double-blue Athletics of St. Catharines of young local amateurs augmented by a few gifted native sons who once strayed from their fire-side by the lure of distant fame and fortune. Maybe what once was could be again.
What was the most compelling of all for the people of St. Catharines would be the belated homecoming of a few of its brightest and best heroes. From a storytelling perspective, the profound impact of 1918 to St. Catharines lacrosse was the celebratory return of Willie Hope, George Kalls and the great Bill Fitzgerald to our own field of dreams, the "old corner lot". If the dying field game was to have a unifying moment of resurgence, let it be here and let it be now, with our own breakout stars of the past, and with all of the myth that goes with it.
We first saw George Kalls as a teenage star of the Senior Athletics from 1903 to '05 before he became a much-in-demand star with the Torontos of the National Lacrosse Union during their best years. What set Kalls apart the most from his contemporaries was his artistry with the lacrosse stick. A clean, smallish, suitably quick-footed and aware athlete, he would rely on his stick-handling prowess to deny possession of the ball to his opponents and even regulate the game's tempo and flow...often slowing it down if it suited him, or exploding into a lightning attack with a quick pass or a sudden burst of speed. Fred Jacob in the June 15, 1926 edition of MacLean's magazine would note, "Some will say, close to the nets, there has never been another stick-handler, another foxy slow-boy like Georgie Kalls." A field general in the truest sense, he was a popular, un-self-possessed athlete, and would be a key figure in Lacrosse Old-Boy Association functions in the 1930's and 1940's. Kalls became an inductee into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a field player.
TO THE YOUNG
by Pat Haffey (Niagara Falls Review - 1932)
You may not be a Conacher, with a big and husky frame.
So I'll introduce friend Georgie Kalls of hickory's hall of fame.
Now, "Kallie" was a lightweight, but defensemen he made sore.
By the way he shuffled by them, for they knew 'twould be a score.
So whatever be your class or size, get out and strut your stuff.
You may have the goods within you, just a diamond in the rough.
Descriptions of Willie Hope, the player, are difficult to find. He was a notable standout with the championship Athletics of 1910, a team that was denied the opportunity to play for the very first Mann Cup amateur title solely because of the alleged professional background of some of its players. He later himself went on to play professionally with the Toronto-based Tecumsehs of the National Lacrosse Union. What is better known about Hope was his undying commitment to develop young lacrosse talent within the local lacrosse association through the 1920's and 30's, and he deserves credit for helping the game stay alive and strong in St. Catharines when it was in serious decline in most areas of Ontario. Hope coached many of the youngsters who later went on to win Mann Cups for the Athletics during the great lacrosse resurgence of the late 1930's and early 1940's. Hope's contributions would someday be recognized in Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a builder.
And William James "Billy" Fitzgerald may have been the best of his era. "Fitz" was a slender, agile, speedster who played an offensive position called "home" in the field game of his day. He took up the game at sixteen and then broke in with the Senior Athletics as a nineteen-year-old in 1907. He quickly drew the high praise of the St. Catharines Standard, "to Fitzgerald goes the warmest approval, as his stick-handling, speed and shooting made him a terror to the Tiger defence and he figured in nearly every prominently play of the day." He returned to the "Double-Blues" the following season before jumping to the Torontos of the N. L. U. in 1909. His impact on the pro league was sudden and profound...in May of '09, the Toronto World would announce, "Fitzgerald, the latest St. Kitts export, handles himself like a finished product, and fits into the home as if he had been born and brought up to it." A few weeks later, the Montreal Gazette took notice with, "in Fitzgerald, the Torontos seem to have one of the best home men in the country." In July after running and dodging through half of the field to score a goal against the Montreal Nationals, the Toronto World would write, "the Toronto rooters simply threw a series of fits in their seats and then burst forth on one prolonged spontaneous roar." This was the very fan reaction that team owner Robert Fleming hoped for in his newly built 8,000 seat stadium at the Scarborough Beach Amusement Park. By the end of his first pro year in the N. L. U., his reputation was clearly established as the Ottawa Citizen would write in September of 1909, "there is no denying the fact that Fitzgerald is one of the most brilliant players that has ever handled a stick in the N. L. U. He has everything in his favour, speed, strength and the ability to go by a man and bore in."
The Torontos of 1910 were well positioned for a title run with Fitzgerald, Kalls and play-making Pete Barnett (all St. Kitts exports and eventual Hall of Fame inductees) along with the dangerous Nick Carter and Art Warwick on the attack. But in the rough and tumble world of the N. L. U. of 1910, this meant a rising star like young Fitzgerald would draw plenty of special attention. The Ottawa Capitals let it be known before a June match-up that they planned to keep "Fitz" well in check, but the Torontos' manager Jimmy Murphy boosted that "they will need twenty Taylors to cover Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the greatest home player in the N. L. U. and is now playing the finest lacrosse that he has ever put up." The game played in Ottawa predictably turned into a rough affair. Fitzgerald scored two goals very early before being injured in what the Ottawa Citizen described as a "slashing bee near the Capital net." He would return but as the Citizen would report, "rough work abounded in the second quarter, the climax coming when Fred Taylor drew a twenty minute penalty for slashing Fitzgerald as the latter was going around him." Then, "towards the close of the third quarter, Fitzgerald was again injured, going down in a heap near the Capital flags." This final incident meant a dislocated jaw for Fitzgerald. "Fitz" would return to the line-up that season (one report suggests he may have played in the very next game), but a severe wrist injury would sideline him again and the league title ultimately went to the Montreal Nationals with the Torontos finishing second.
In 1911, businessman, sport promoter and Vancouver Lacrosse Club owner Con Jones opened a bidding war for the best lacrosse players in the country, and the result was a number of eastern players headed west including Angus "Bones" Allen, Nick Carter, the legendary Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde, and at $5,000 for a ten-game season schedule plus playoffs, Billy Fitzgerald. This was a princely sum of money in 1911 and even outdid the great Ty Cobb's $4,500 salary for a full baseball schedule with the Detroit Tigers. Fitzgerald's 15 goals would lead the Vancouver team in scoring through the regular season and the two game playoff with New Westminster as Vancouver succeeded in wrestling the coveted Minto Cup away from the Salmonbellies (the game played in Vancouver reportedly drew better than 14,000 fans). "Fitz" would later be shut-out in the two-game total-points challenge series with the Tecumsehs of Toronto, but Vancouver would win by a combined score of 7 - 3..."Newsy" the hero with five goals...and Con Jones' high-payroll Vancouver Lacrosse Club accomplished their mission of claiming and defending the Minto Cup.
Oh, to be lacrosse star in 1912! The bidding wars for lacrosse talent was in full swing and Billy Fitzgerald found himself the object of a tug-of-war battle between two wealthy and prideful lacrosse magnates. In early April, Jones sent his emissary Jimmy Hewitt to Fitzgerald's St. Catharines home to get his signature on a new Vancouver contract. "Fitz" showed interest, but asked for just a bit more time to think it over. Meanwhile, Torontos' owner Robert Fleming was determined to have the marquee attraction back with his club, and eventually succeeded with a $4,000 contract for "Fitz" along with a $1,000 salary for brother Tom. On April 24th, the Toronto World would report the news, "Billy Fitzgerald, after being several times claimed by Vancouver and Toronto lacrosse teams, will after all be seen at Scarboro Beach again this year. Last night he wired Con Jones that he has changed his mind and would not go west this year." With "Fitz" reunited with Kalls and Barnett, plus veteran Art Warwick and newcomer Eddie Longfellow, the Torontos would enjoy a very successful 14 - 4 season, win their league's title (now the Dominion Lacrosse Union) and be part of a magical time for lacrosse in Toronto. In 1961, Toronto Telegram sports columnist Ted Reeve would look back across the decades and affectionately write of the Fleming-Fitzgerald 1912 partnership..."Can still see him (Fitzgerald) at Scarboro Beach when H. J. Fleming, a high class producer in this town if ever we had one, built the beautiful stadium at the end of his street car line and then with the help of the sage Jimmy Murphy put together a worlds championship 12 in 1912. Feuding all the while with Conn Jones of Vancouver who was also collecting a talented baggataway team to shake the proverbial New Westminster Salmonbellies loose from their long time supremacy. . . The open streetcars rocking down the sunny, tree-lined thoroughfares, straw skimmered passengers on the side steps . . . rooting already. After the match the band concert at night when D'Urbano's Famous Italian Band filled the park to overflowing on the lawns and the lake covered with canoes as the golden music floated over the waters . . .two wars . . . three wars, you might say, and a depression only make these memories all the fonder." But pleasant nostalgia aside, the 1912 season would prove to be the tipping-point for the free-wheeling economics of the field era as practically all of the teams of the D. L. U. lost money; the Torontos themselves reportedly losing $6,000 on the season. The Daily Phoenix would report in September 1912, "the season, in fact, has been the most disastrous in the history of the national game."
In 1913, as professional lacrosse teams became reluctant to part with their money and as his St. Catharines carpentry business was beginning to take off, twenty-five-year-old Fitzgerald surprised many and simply stayed home. The game was a rough one in Fitzgerald's day and without the lucrative financial rewards, one can almost surmise what thought process "Fitz" may have followed with this decision. Besides, a marriage proposal to Miss J. Adele Sheehan of Yates Street, St. Catharines would certainly have focused his attention on a new life. The Torontos tried all season long to coax him back, even sending captain Art Warwick to St. Catharines in May for a friendly chat, and it was reported that a now desperate Con Jones made another big effort in June . . . offering the Torontos $1,000 to release any contractual claim they had for "Fitz." The lacrosse season would play out without Billy Fitzgerald in the picture and the Toronto World would lament, "the Torontos sure miss Billy Fitzgerald, as (he) was always good for a couple of goals at least, besides usually requiring two or three men to watch him."
Few could deny it, the game was in a noticeable decline in popularity, and the opening salvos of the Great War in August of 1914 would only accentuate this trend. Fitzgerald would make a limited return with the new Toronto Rosedales of the struggling N. L. U. in 1914 ("the management of the Rosedales trotted out all the players advertised, including Billy Fitzgerald the great home player" - Edmonton Journal, June 15th) . . . and then begin a coaching stint with the Hobart University team in the spring of 1915 before splitting his playing season between Vancouver (very briefly) and the Rosedales . . . 1916 would see his return to the Rosedales . . . and then finally he would be coaxed into one game for the 1917 Tecumsehs before they unceremoniously folded in mid-season.
Gone were the crowds, the newspaper headlines and the big money. The world had passed lacrosse by.
And in many ways, the arc of a lacrosse legend was following the same path.
READY, AYE, READY
The first heat of July 1918 ushered in a flurry of activity at the old Catherine Street grounds as lacrosse nets were pulled out and some familiar homebrews . . . Purdy and May, Immel and Marriott, even "Dubous" McGlashan and "Wassop" O' Gorman . . . were running sprints and tossing the ball around. But what brought the railbirds out in good numbers to witness these initial practices, of course, was the starry threesome returning to the "old corner lot." The St. Catharines Standard was there too, and reported that "both Fitz and Kallie are in good condition and after last night's two hours' practice and another work-out tonight, will be in the prime . . . St. Catharines has for years never had the privilege of witnessing Fitzgerald, Kalls and Hope in action owing to their receiving enormous salaries with the big Toronto professional teams. Fitzgerald also starred with Con Jones' champion Vancouver team, who were holders of the Minto Cup, receiving something like $5,000 for the season out west. These are some of the players who will represent St. Catharines this year in the Canadian Professional League." Conditioning would be a quick order as this late-starting league hastily threw a schedule together that would all kick-off in St. Catharines with the visiting Leaside Indians on July 6th.
Summertime in St. Catharines and there was a big lacrosse game to go to. The Athletics L. C. were better than forty years old by now and although their popularity and grip on the local populace had waned, they were still very much a local institution and tradition. The people who wielded their way along Catherine Street to the grounds that Saturday afternoon likely comprised a wide generational representation, and for some who lived through the glory times, carried along some happy memories of the old halcyon days. What they found at their destination must have felt like a step back in time....the crowds, the buzz in the air, and all of the collective expectancy. The Toronto Globe newspaper would write that "lacrosse is far from dead in St. Catharines if the attendance on Saturday at the Leaside Indian game there can be taken as an index. The contest drew the largest lacrosse crowd since the days of the battles between St. Kitts and Brantford. The grand stand was full, the crowd overflowing on the field." And when the ball was faced at 3:15 sharp, "it was not long before the spectators were straining their lungs in all the old time enthusiasm of other days" (The Standard, 7/8/18).
The game was fast and clean throughout the first half. The crowd roar was heard through open kitchen windows blocks away when the A's scored the opening goal. But then Leaside came back strongly and opened up a 3 to 1 advantage. The Standard described the action as "strong on team play and both teams with an occasional individual play of the stellar variety which the grand stand never will fail to enjoy." The first half ended with the visitors holding onto a 5 to 4 lead.
The Athletics emerged flying from the start of the second half and quickly produced three goals. The complexion of the game then changed as the teams showed a desire to mix it up. But the Standard happily reported, "fortunately sticks were dropped and the padded gloves, harmless in such practice, caused no damage, and Referee Waghorne was well able to cope with all such occurrences."
The second-half momentum swing was dramatic and decisive as the A's scored nine unanswered goals and walked off the field with a 13 - 5 win with the crowd reportedly "going wild". Our game was back. It was a great day for the light and dark blues and its loyal supporters, "with the bringing back of the professional stars into the game, the knowing fans expected something big and they were not disappointed . . . Enough has been seen to agree that the inauguration of mixed lacrosse in wartime is a great success."
But the Standard would also add this predictive insight . . . "when it comes to winning games, St. Kitts seems to have the goods, although the lowering of the anti-professional bars opens the way to an almost incalculable scope for the two Toronto teams in the league."
Two weeks later, the Athletics traveled to Toronto's Cottingham Square grounds for their first look at the black and orange clad Maitlands. The Toronto Globe would report, "it looked like old times at the grounds, the crowd was so large, and seldom has so clean a game been witnessed there. St. Catharines came along with George Kalls and Billy Fitzgerald, and truth to tell, they were the whole works for the Garden City team." The A's started second-best and gave up a couple of early goals, but then like their first game, they improved as play continued and eventually secured their second win on a 11 - 8 score. The day had an admittedly sportsmanlike aire as the Toronto lacrosse fans warmly applauded the play of Kalls and Fitzgerald on occasion.
And old friend Pete Barnett, a St. Kitts native who starred for many years with the pro Torontos, witnessed the game and later voiced his genuine interest in coming back to the double-blues after a twelve year absence. What a coup for the locals that would be.
The Athletics' busy Civic Day long weekend would begin with a game Saturday at Leaside and then back home on Monday to host the Maitlands. The Standard would promote the coming games with the claim that the fully expected addition of Barnett to the line-up alongside Fitzgerald, Kalls, Hope, and good amateurs Gordie Pople and "Red" Millar would give the locals "the greatest home that was ever got together in Canada."
Interest was growing in St. Catharines as fans turned out in good numbers to the nightly practices and a large number booked tickets on the Dalhousie City for the voyage across Lake Ontario for the Saturday game. Leaside even graciously agreed to move the start time up to 2:15 to allow time for the excursionists to catch the boat back to Port Dalhousie at 6 p.m.
The Leaside team were certainly no less compelling than the other two in the wartime Canadian Lacrosse Association. Leaside in 1918 was a distinct suburb of Toronto and the site of a large munitions factory that provided 9.2 inch shells to Canada's war effort. Also at the same location was a large aerodrome where R. A. F. pilots bravely trained to fly rickety wood, cloth and wire biplanes. Some of the Leaside lacrosse games of 1918 would actually be played on these very aerodrome grounds "thru the kind permission of Col. Wanklyn, M.C.O.C., 43rd Wing, R.A.F." (Toronto World, 7/28/1918)
The men comprising the Leaside Indians lacrosse club were all Native and were in the employ of the Leaside Munitions Company. The players were from the Caughnawaga/St. Regis/Cornwall area and such names as Paul Thomas, Joe Martin, Paul Jacobs and Lou White were well known among lacrosse fans of the day. The Toronto Globe would describe the Leaside team as "a strong, fast outfit and are brilliant in the art of stick-handling."
Although the slow, two-and-a-half hour voyage across Lake Ontario for the Leaside game reportedly left half of the Athletics team suffering from seasickness, Fitzgerald would open the scoring just two minutes into the game. But Jacobs and Thomas would each score twice and Leaside handed the A's their first set-back by a score of 6 to 3. The Globe would report that "the fourth period was well under way before it became apparent that the superior condition (of Leaside) would be the deciding factor in the game, so evenly balanced were both elevens."
But back at home on Civic Day, the Athletics would not be outrun by the veteran Maitlands team as they put together a tidy 8 to 5 victory before two thousand fans at the old corner lot. Pete Barnett made his C. L. A. debut, but it was a surprise to a great many to see him walk onto the field in a Maitlands uniform . . . the result of the residency ruling. "It was expected that Pete would again be seen playing for his home city, but the Maitlands objected to him doing so while living in Toronto, claimed him and signed him up." (St. Catharines Standard, 8/6/1918)
The first half of the schedule was now complete and the C. L. A. standings stood as follows:
OVER THE TOP
It was now over a week into that fateful month of August 1918. The headlines in all the dailies were shouting the news of the Canadians and Australians making a continual push through the German lines at the Battle of Amiens. In a single day, the Canadians would gain eight miles of territory at the cost of 1,036 dead and 2,803 wounded. German general Erich Ludendorff later called this day the "black day of the German Army." Lest we forget.
On the very day that this battle ended, the test of courage and resolve on a much smaller stage and with far less historical significance or cost was played out at the St. Catharines lacrosse grounds. After losing their season opener, Leaside peeled off three impressive victories to tie themselves with St. Catharines, and now they were eager to knock the Athletics off the shared pedestal. The winless Maitlands with all their old Torontos and Tecumseh pros seemed tired and ineffectual, and were thought of as a non-factor in the big race. Yes, Saturday August 10th felt like a very important day.
Not surprisingly, the attendance at the old corner lot surpassed the good numbers achieved in the two previous C. L. A. matches. The Toronto Globe's game report began with the observation, "Lacrosse may be a dead issue in some parts of the country, but not here. Yesterday the S. R. O. sign was hung out". The St. Catharines Standard would add that the grounds were filled an hour early and the crowd was "boiling with excitement". And this good crowd would witness a match that the local paper described as "one of the greatest victories in lacrosse history".
Many in attendance may have felt that the A's had it won in the first quarter...Fitz, Hope, Kalls and Pople in fine form, controlling the play from the home end, and opening up a 4 to 1 lead. But Leaside started to creep back into it during the second quarter and closed the gap to a 5 to 3 Athletics lead by half-time.
If the second quarter hinted of a momentum shift, quarter-three would leave little doubt of it. The telling weakness of the 1918 Athletics was their light and inexperienced defense, and Leaside with all their speed and weight started to go through them like a wrecking ball. "Their fielders began to demonstrate dangerous condition and their ability as ball getters was displayed with telling effect," wrote the Standard. The visitors scored four to take the lead by 7 to 5, but then after Stacey opened up a cut on Fitzgerald, the Athletics regrouped and managed a couple of man-advantage goals to even it 7 to 7 by quarter end.
Leaside recaptured the lead early in the fourth quarter, but a controversial incident would swing fortunes decidedly in the opposite direction. George Kalls picked up a loose ball on the A's side of mid-field and attempted to move around Montour of Leaside. Soon referee Fred Waghorne (Sr) blew his whistle and indicated a five-minute penalty to Montour for rough play, but the Leaside player protested the call and refused to leave the field. After minutes of delay, and then only by the insistence of a teammate, the Leaside player left the field and "Old Wag" signaled for a face-off to resume play. But now the Leaside team refused to send a player over for the draw and Waghorne's patience was beginning to wear thin. The future inductee into both the Lacrosse and Hockey Hall of Fames finally allowed Kalls to pick the ball up off the ground unopposed, and within seconds, a quick passing sequence would lead to a crucial Athletics' score. The game was tied.
Regulation time ended with the score still tied at 8, and the teams were ordered to play an extra five minutes. But the added allotment would only elevate the score to 9 each, and yet another five minutes was called for. It was only in the dying seconds of this second overtime that Fitzgerald started a play that pressed the home-side to the attack, and after a flurry of action, the ball was in the net. "It came at a most timely moment and sent the big crowd into ecstasies of joy," wrote the St. Catharines Standard.
The Athletics were alone atop the C. L. A. standings with the dramatic 10 - 9 win over their greatest rival. The term "Hollywood Ending" was still decades into the future, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons leaving the old corner lot on that sunny August afternoon would say it all. Four wins in five games . . . the Athletics are alright! Ah, the welcomed escapism of sport.
But hold on.
After the weekend revelry settled, the Athletics learned on Monday of a protest submitted to C. L. A. president Charlie Querrie by Leaside manager James Robertson. The game must be replayed on a neutral site claimed Robertson, as some biased refereeing threw the game to the Athletics' favour and the St. Catharines spectators were hostile and threatening to the Leaside players. "Mr. Waghorne seemed to be very much interested in the St. Kitts team, as his decisions were very much unfair, and he even went so far as to throw his hat in the air and cheer when St. Catharines scored a goal," claimed Robertson. He also reported that on the play that saw Montour penalized, Kalls was "holding the ball on his stick with his thumb while Montour was checking him hard but perfectly fair. Waghorne blew his whistle and ruled Montour off for five minutes without any warning." The protest went on to say that the "spectators became so hostile as they threatened us with sticks, bottles and other missiles which the officials or the police did not try to stop."
Querrie called a executive meeting for Toronto's King Edward Hotel to address the serious charges. They listened to Waghorne's report that stated that Kalls "attempted to pass the player penalized, but before doing so was heavily checked over the arm; with the result the game was stopped and the penalty of five minutes was inflicted. This player claimed that Kalls had been holding the ball in his stick with his thumb, though such is not the fact." Waghorne would conclude with, "I wish here to congratulate the players of both teams for the clean game that was put up, and which augurs well for the continuance of the game in these parts."
Judge-of-Play Len Smith supported Waghorne's report and then the league executive dismissed the protest. The Athletics win would stand.
NOW YOU'RE ON THE TROLLEY!
Perhaps the Athletics at mid-season could be excused for any sense of smug satisfaction for having done things so right. On very short notice, they put together a cohesive unit that had excelled on the field against their rivals from Leaside, a team fairly well-conditioned after playing exhibition matches throughout the spring, and of course, the highly touted Maitlands with all of their starry professionals. The boys were playing exciting, crowd-pleasing lacrosse that resurrected a by-gone passion for the game at the old corner lot, and they were atop the standings of the new-look C. L. A. Their former pros excelled very nicely as expected, and some of the amateurs such as Gordie Pople, Herb "Red" Millar and netminder Jack Gayder were impressing many with their continued steady play. They even managed to keep their frailties on defense under-exposed through their first five games. Yes, the A's seemed to be sitting pretty.
The shaky National Lacrosse Union resumed play in 1918 with just three teams and after a short four game schedule, the Ottawa Capitals were declared the early winners over the two Montreal-based teams. The Capitals were eager for more action and invited the C. L. A. leaders for a home-and-home exhibition. But the A's with four games left to play on their C. L. A. schedule plus a trip to Chicago for a fund-raising match against a team called the Calumets, rejected the Ottawa proposal. Besides, the C. L. A. intended the regular schedule winners to be declared the league champions and then time would permit a formal showdown with Ottawa for the honours of Eastern Canadian lacrosse supremacy.
For now, the Amazin' Athletics of '18 were hotly engaged in a tight race for first place with the Leaside Indians. The real surprise of the Canadian Lacrosse Association was the poor showing of the Toronto Maitlands. This pro-laden team contained some of the best from the old N. L. U. Torontos and Tecumseh clubs and were manned by a number of players that were remembered when the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame would be created almost fifty years well into the future. No one would have foreseen a 0 - 4 start for the Maitlands!
The Athletics journeyed to Cottingham Square on August 24th and must have packed along plenty of motivation as a Blues' win there would sweetly knock the vaunted Maitlands out of the race for the title. The St. Catharines Athletics opened fast and laid siege upon the Maitlands' net, but former Tecumseh goaltender Bud Torpey handled all of the visitor's initial spirited onslaught. Then on a rare down-field sortie, the Maitlands' Eddie Braden got through the Athletics' defense and set-up Reeves for a stunning opening goal. The Toronto crowd awakened. Whether that sudden counter-strike deflated the A's or inspired the Maitlands is uncertain, but two more would come just as suddenly to the Maitlands and the Athletics realized they were in for a serious fight. Gordie Pople would pop in a pair for the Athletics with Fitzgerald's clever assistance, but Petey Barnett answered back with one of his own and the first quarter ended with the Maitlands up by 4 to 2. The remainder of the game turned into a tight-checking, ball-ragging affair as the backs-to-the-wall Maitlands played with old-guy smartness, and finally broke into the win column with a 6 to 3 victory.
The Athletics maintained confidence as they returned home to prepare for a rematch with the Maitlands on the following weekend. They could tell themselves that aside of a few bewildering minutes in the first quarter, the duel at Cottingham Square was close and well-played, and once back at the friendly confines of their own corner lot, the final outcome would be a different story. And yes, it would be Labour Day...joyous Labour Day weekend in St. Catharines . . . lacrosse, parades, dances and now even patriotic demonstrations under the auspices of the local Great War Veterans Association (G. W. V. A.) . . . onward boys, onward!
TELL IT TO SWEENEY
A carpenter in 1918 would earn about 63 cents an hour, an electrician 68 cents and a labourer 45 cents (Toronto rates as per Stats Can). A worker in 1918 lacked the level of employment insurance, medical coverage, pensions, safety regulations and other benefits that we often take for granted today. The labour union movement was growing in our country but labour-management confrontations could escalate into violence as seen by the Winnipeg general strike the following year. The boundaries of an old class system in the Canada of 1918 were more evident then than today, between the rich and the poor, between men and women, between predominantly white anglo-saxon protestants and various minorities. It was only in 1918 that Canadian women were first granted the right to vote in federal elections. And soon a war-weary army would be returning home from Europe with expectations of jobs and a good life. A snap-shot of 1918.
Canada's Labour Day as a first Monday in September holiday began around 1880 (arguably this common holiday was a Canadian creation) and usually featured union organized parades and picnics. And in St. Catharines, you could easily throw in a lacrosse match to that mix. The Labour Day "Monster" Parade of 1918 would include the members of the St. Catharines Athletics, and the boys also assisted the G. W. V. A. in the evening military tattoo.
But the late afternoon match with the Maitlands was foremost on their minds...another chance to remove them from title contention. After the Maitlands edged the A's the previous weekend, they quickly chalked up their second win of the season on an impressive 12 to 2 victory at Leaside with Pete Barnett scoring five. Don't look now, but the old boys were waking up.
The Athletics walked onto the field with a surprise in their line-up, imported defensive specialist Art Harrison, an old teammate of Kalls' and Fitzgerald's when they played for the Rosedales. He could offer the A's something that they were badly in need of, a large-framed "Rock of Gibraltar" on the back field that could block opposition runners from easily bulling their way in on goaltender Gayder. Harrison starred with the Ottawa Capitals that summer, but since the brief N. L. U. season ended early, his services were happily picked up by the A's. What Harrison would do if the A's won the C. L. A. title and then played Ottawa for the Eastern Canadian title would soon became a topic of heated discussion.
But wouldn't you know it, as the Athletics looked downfield they spotted a familiar face warming up for his very first game in a Maitlands uniform. Eddie Longfellow was a big star with the N. L. U. Torontos at one time, a strong offensive threat with a sizeable hunger and ability to get to the net. The Toronto Globe would write that Longfellow was "always a brilliant, flashy performer", and when the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame was created in 1965, he would immediately be inducted as a charter member. Was the C. L. A. balance of power shifting?
The teams then lined up before referee Waghorne and the largest crowd of the year at the old corner lot. "The fans realized after the ball was underway that the Athletics faced a tough proposition and immediately went up on their toes. When Harry Flynn notched the first goal of the match for the home team in three minutes after the ball was faced the outlook seemed favorable," reported the St. Catharines Standard. But then if the fans' outlook slightly dimmed after Pete Barnett tied the score for the visitors, it would darken considerably the moment they noticed that Billy Fitzgerald had sustained an injury. The Toronto Globe would describe it as accidental. "Fitz" gamely played on but he was clearly not himself, and the first quarter ended tied at one each.
After Longfellow scored three times in quarter two, the A's realigned their defense for the start of the second half as a counter-measure. "The Athletics at this point rebuilt a portion of their defence, replacing Sullivan and Crowe by Overholt and Wiley. Yet the visitors would not be denied. They used their speed and weight on the defence end and the boring in tactics of their fielders with telling effect and soon had it 7 - 3," wrote the Standard. "Kalls, Hope, Pople and Flynn at this point got started on a beautiful piece of combination by Fitzgerald and it worked to perfection, but it was short-lived. Fitz was plainly suffering from an over-exertion and had to quit the game at the end of the third quarter when the score was 8 - 4."
The Maitlands would march to a decisive 11 to 5 win in the Labour Day classic as "Spellen, Longfellow, Denneny, and Barnett were decidedly conspicuous." (Toronto Globe, 9/3/18). Three Maitland wins in ten days, two versus the Athletics, and now the C. L. A. title was a wide open race to the wire.
With just one game left on the Athletics' schedule, optimism remained as they could still wrap up the title with a win at Leaside on September 7th. But the main concern within the A's camp was the condition of Billy Fitzgerald as their big star looked doubtful to play.
That Saturday, the main road between Farnham Avenue and the town was filled for hours with buses, jitneys and motor cars as 3,000 fans journeyed to the aviation camp to see the big game. And league president Charlie Querrie came in to referee the match at Leaside's request as some "ill-feelings" still lingered after their previous meeting in St. Catharines. But his appearance that day would prove to be a costly one for the former Tecumseh great.
Leaside trotted out a new goalie, a player named Garrow, and it wasn't long before he proved his value. The Athletics arrived with their prized Ottawa import, big Art Harrison, but the Toronto Globe would report that on this day, he provided just an "ordinary game." As for "Fitz", "Billy Fitzgerald was not in the St. Kitts line-up owing to injuries received in the last game, and he was very much missed."
The Globe's report would state that play was "evenly balanced, the visitors making many opportunities." But the great Toronto daily was being gracious to the A's. Leaside's Paul Jacobs would score three, Paul Thomas provide another pair (plus enliven the proceedings with a couple of fights with little Jimmy Sullivan of the A's defense), and goalie Garrow and centre "Mayo shone for the Indians."
As for the visitors, "Georgie Kalls was well looked after and had no chance to shine."
Final score: Leaside 8, St. Catharines 0 . . . a trouncing.
Trepidation replaced optimism in the Athletics camp.
"Today's loss by the Athletics," wrote the Standard, "puts a rather problematic air as to which team will win the championship. It remains for the Maitlands on Saturday next to defeat the Leaside team in order to have a three-cornered tie, with each team having four wins and four losses."
That would not bode well either for the N. L. U. champions waiting in Ottawa. "The Ottawas were in hope that St. Catharines would win and that the home and home series could be played on Saturday next September 14 and the following Saturday September 21," wrote the Ottawa Citizen. The Capitals had been ready to play for two weeks and now the possibility of a three-team C. L. A. playoff would mean weeks more of keeping this idle team together.
And lastly, the well-respected league president/referee returned home on that day with his own personal loss. "President Querrie handled the whistle himself, and his appearance was a very costly one, as he lost his diamond locket during the progress of the game," wrote the Globe. "Studded with over forty diamonds, this locket was presented to him some years ago by the Nationals (of Montreal) after his Indians (Toronto Tecumsehs) disposed of Montreal (A. A. A. "Winged Wheels") here, enabling the Nationals to win the championship. Tom Humphrey and Charlie spent most of Saturday evening crawling over the grounds on their hands and knees, but were unable to locate the missing jewelry."
The following weekend, attention shifted to the Maitland's home grounds for the pivotal match-up with Leaside. Cottingham Square was located in an area of Toronto that we would recognize today as the fashionable Yorkville district, but in the days of the C. L. A. Maitlands, it was a rough and tough neighbourhood. Toronto Telegram columnist Ted Reeve would one-day write, "every kid in Cottingham Square...played lacrosse, rugby and hockey, and you had to fight or move." Legendary Lionel "Big Train" Conacher, Canada's "athlete of the first half century" was growing up there in 1918, and perhaps watched and was inspired by some of the Canadian Lacrosse Association action of that summer.
But the Cottingham Square grounds were uneven and short on seating capacity, and as the weekend approached, a grander stage was chosen for the game; the stadium at Hanlon's Point. The two teams and their supporters would be filling the ferry boats to the idyllic Toronto Islands on that September Saturday. "On account of the importance of the event and at the request of many fans who desire to watch the game in comfort," wrote the Toronto World on September 13th, "the island stadium has been secured. This will insure of the game being won on its merits. The home of many a hard fought lacrosse game is an ideal spot to stage the national pastime." L. J. "Lol" Solmon owned the stadium and the amusement park at the island as well as the Toronto Ferry Service, and he "promised a good ferry service" for the large crowd expected...and at full fare.
Meanwhile, the Athletics were taking it on the lam in Chicago, the "City of the Broad Shoulders." This had become something of an annual fun event for the boys; wined and dined, treated like visiting dignitaries, and then reciprocate with a little, friendly lacrosse exhibition at Comiskey Park against the local Calumets. Not a bad way to forget your troubles at home.
"Lacrosse fans flocked to Hanlon's Point on Saturday afternoon when the Maitlands and the Leaside Indians hooked up in a real old-fashioned battle," wrote the Globe. "The game got underway at 3:25 with Maitlands defending the south goal."
Leaside's strategy that day was to drop players back and put up a defensive shell around goaltender Garrow. The Globe's reporter found fault with this and wrote, "they played too many men on their defence, thereby leaving the work of the home to one or two men. They have to learn that the best defensive game is an offensive one." Perhaps so, but the explosive Maitland attack was subdued and the first half ended with the score just 2 to 1 in Toronto's favour.
In the second half, early Longfellow and Barnett goals made for a widening Maitland margin, and that would ultimately change the defensive complexion of the game. "The Indians came back full of ginger and had the crowd on their toes on numerous occasions. Thomas finally succeeding in beating Torpey."
Leaside continued to press to the attack, and then the great Longfellow was felled by a heavy check and failed to return. The game had swung decidedly to Leaside's favour. Trailing by three goals at one point, they were within one after Paul Thomas scored "on a brilliant shot from the side."
But a complete Leaside comeback would not prevail. "They kept up a continuous bombardment," wrote the Toronto Globe, "but Torpey was equal to the occasion, and made a great stop just as the bell rang." The game ended with the score 5 to 4 in the Maitland's favour.
And alas, a three-way tie existed in the final standings of the 1918 Canadian Lacrosse Association.
The Globe would summarize it all with this; "This is a rather unique situation. Maitlands started the campaign in poor fashion and dropped their first four games in a row. But the men who fought to the last ditch against the Nationals and the famous Shamrocks of by-gone days were not to be denied, and with admirable grit and determination, they rallied and copped their last four games."
"St. Kitts look like the weak sister of the C. L. A. and now that they have lost the great and only Fitzgerald, it is very unlikely that they will prove to be anything but a light lunch for the Indians and Maitlands. The real fight for the C. L. A. championship lies between those two teams, and the Maitlands should be strong favorites for the title."
With a dead-heat finish and the Athletics still away in Chicago, the C. L. A. made a quick decision on a playoff format that actually was very kind to the A's; a one-game semi-final between Leaside and the Maitlands with the winner to play St. Catharines in a home-and-home final. The Athletics had an express trip to the league finals along with the bonus of an extra week to rest up Fitzgerald.
To the Ottawa Capitals, all of this was a total disaster. "Owing to the playoff arrangements, it is doubtful if it will be possible for Ottawa to meet the Western Ontario finalists this fall at all," wrote the Ottawa Citizen. "It is regrettable that the C. L. A. series was not wound up sooner as a home and home round between Ottawa and the Western winners would undoubtedly have created great interest."
Semi-final Saturday would arrive at Hanlon's Point along with the revelation of some late additions to the Leaside line-up; "King" Brady, Billy Walsh and the indomitable "Newsy" Lalonde of the N. L. U. Montreal Nationals. Leaside's management had upped the ante with some big-name reinforcements.
Lalonde of Cornwall was particularly highly-regarded. A scoring star in both lacrosse and hockey, the play-for-pay sensation was now joining his third lacrosse team of the season after starting off with Con Jones' Vancouver team.
1950-era sports editors and broadcasters would vote "Newsy" Lalonde, Canada's outstanding lacrosse player of the half-century (Billy Fitzgerald and old-time Montreal Shamrock player Henry Hoobin would finish second and third in voting, while Lionel Conacher, Alex Turnbull, Lance Isaacs and Didier Pitre would also collect votes). On that occasion, Jack Sullivan of the Canadian Press wrote that, "in his prime ("Newsy") weighed around 170 pounds, was 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall and had a reputation as a tough guy. He once said: 'Sure I was tough, and so was everyone else. Lacrosse was a rugged game and only the guys who could hand it out as well as take it could last in those days.' And in those days it was survival of the fittest and Newsy held his own. He played in the era of such greats as Billy Fitzgerald, Nick Carter, Art Warwick and Eddie Longfellow of Toronto and Bones Allan in the west coast, along with the Spring Brothers of New Westminster - Grumpy and Doughy. He made a big name in lacrosse and hockey, and has admitted that he liked the ice game 'a bit better.' 'It didn't take quite so much out of you as the old-style lacrosse game. But I couldn't imagine two better sports.' The greatest lacrosse player of the half century was the second honor he received this year (1950). Earlier, he was elected to hockey's Hall of Fame.(1950). Earlier, he was elected to hockey's Hall of Fame."
Lalonde's appearance that day at the Island Stadium was bold and unexpected, and perhaps he could prove to be the difference maker. But then just before game time, the Leaside players met and voted to sit their imported stars and go with the same line-up that played so well against the Maitlands the week before. Changing horses in mid-stream is never easy.
"This decision probably cost them the verdict," claimed the Toronto Globe, "because Maitlands ran in four in the first ten minutes and sewed up the game." A pair of Longfellow goals and singles from Fred Rountree and NHLer Corbett Denneny would place the Leaside Indians into a deep hole. The first quarter ended with the score 4 to 1 for the Maitlands.
"In the interval, the Indian management decided to use the Montreal men," wrote the Globe. "They came on for the second period and the play livened up. Lalonde, Brady and Walsh made repeated, though unsuccessful, efforts to score." Leaside rallied and outplayed their opponents through the middle frames, but the Maitlands were not to be denied and held on for a 7 to 5 win.
Lalonde scored once, as did Walsh, and Leaside mainstay Paul Jacobs added a pair. But ultimately, all would be over-shadowed by another extraordinary game from Eddie Longfellow of the Maitlands; four goals to lead the black and orange into the 1918 C. L. A. finals. The Globe's high praise of Longfellow's work on that long ago day included comparisons to the fearless charges of a popular star of a decade earlier; "He is a player of the 'Dare-Devil' Gauthier type, and his play always makes a hit with the fans."
More and more, the main story of the 1918 Canadian Lacrosse Association was becoming Mr. Edward Longfellow.
THE BIG PUSH
"Billy Fitzgerald may not be available for the St. Catharines team in its home and home series," wrote the Ottawa Citizen. "And in this event, St. Catharines' chances will be slim. Fitzgerald was injured several weeks ago and forced to drop out. He is one of the greatest home men in the game and has done gilt-edged work for this season for the Athletics."
The Press was anointing the title to the Maitlands even before the games were played. "Maitlands have a composition of Toronto and Tecumseh teams and are really one of the strongest twelve that has ever played in the East."
And it was hard to argue otherwise.
The 1918 Toronto Maitlands dressed four future Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductees...Eddie Powers and Glen Bullen on the defense, Pete Barnett and Eddie Longfellow on the home. Beyond that, goaltender Bud Torpey had starred for the Tecumsehs as did tough defenseman Buck Yeaman and home player Freddie Rountree from Weston. "Silver" Spellen, Jack McKenzie, Bert Green and Lawson Whitehead were also great N. L. U. veterans while some young legs were provided by Cornwall's Corbett Denneny, the cup winning goal-scorer for the Toronto Arenas in the 1918 Stanley Cup finals.
While Leaside and the Athletics went with a mixture of amateurs and former pro stars to build their teams, the Maitlands were very much a composite N. L. U. franchise and chalked-full of big-name talent. Though some members of the Maitlands may have been playing the final lacrosse of their illustrious careers, they very capably proved that their blend of skill and experience could still win the tight games.
And so, what really were the Athletics chances?
Well, initially slim.
But by following the Leaside model of the week before, those chances could be improved with a little, late season recruiting by the widely-popular Billy Fitzgerald. What was needed beyond a healthy "Fitz" for the finals was a strengthened Athletics defense, and wouldn't you know, some quite capable N. L. U. players were sitting idle to the east that could fit that bill very nicely. If in his past, Fitzgerald was mentored by the great Con Jones on the fine art of recruitment, now was the time to put it to use.
So in quick order, some money was put together and Fitzgerald boarded a train for Montreal. No doubt about it, St. Catharines wanted that title.
Rumours quickly spread that the Athletics were making some kind of a move. The Toronto Globe; "It is now said that Billy Fitzgerald's Athletics are after reinforcements in the hope of stopping the Maitlands." The Toronto World; "The south shore city are leaving no stone unturned to get the championship. They are trying to land two Ottawa and two Montreal stars to help them lift the honors. Billy Fitzgerald has been in the eastern cities for the last two days, and is expected back in St. Catharines today with the imports."
Finally, the St. Catharines Standard would confirm the rumours; "steps were taken to have the Athletics strengthened and bring the championship where it belongs - right here in old St. Kitts. The financial help of the local sports was solicited and a ready response was forthcoming. Several new faces will be found on the line-up, particularly on the defence end of the team. Just who the players are the management is keeping mum, but no doubt several of the eastern stars will be found on the line-up."
Fitzgerald's trip succeeded in procuring the services of four of the Irish-Canadians of Montreal for the finals; defensemen Larry Doran, "Tip" McCarthy and Eddie Farney, and a home player named Welsh. Farney in particular was a great catch as this future president of the Quebec Amateur Lacrosse Association was a good ball-moving, transition player as well as a strong checker. And with Ottawa's Art Harrison back on the defense and now a healthy (hopefully) Fitzgerald back in the line-up, the St. Catharines Athletics looked alright.
The A's arrived at the island with 14 players for the first game, enough for two spares, but then again, that was two less than the number that they had counted on. Harrison was a surprise game-time no-show, while tardy Gordie Pople missed the train's morning departure from St. Catharines' Western Hill station. Young Pople then set off by motor car along our rough 1918 road system and would eventually walk, perhaps sheepishly, into the team's dressing room just as they were on their half-time break.
On the very same weekend and a world away, two divisions of Canadian infantrymen huddled in the pre-dawn darkness at a place called Canal-Du-Nord. When British field guns, heavy guns and siege batteries began firing their fury over their heads at 5:20 a.m., they charged forward through a narrow strip of open land and then fanned out into a frontal attack of German fortified positions. The Canadian spearhead with the close support of British tanks would face heavy resistance over a bitter four day battle, but they pushed the enemy back and retook the strategic French city of Cambrai. Part of Canada's "hundred days."
In Toronto on that late September Saturday in 1918, the skies looked threatening as spectators filed onto one of Lol Solman's ferries for the short ride to the island. The Island Stadium was located on the site of the current Toronto Island Airport and the original version was built more than twenty years earlier for its prime tenant, the Toronto Maple Leafs minor-league baseball team. Although a great many historic lacrosse games were played at the park, it probably is best remembered as the site of Babe Ruth's first professional home-run. That was in 1914 and legend has it he hit it right into Toronto harbour.
But on this day, it was our national pastime that took to the field and within moments of the ball being faced at 3 p.m., Fitzgerald was inside the Maitland crease (perfectly legal in the old field game) and forcing a sensational stop from Bud Torpey. "Fitz" was back and starting with a flourish!
It was Maitland's rugged second home player that would open the scoring on the day. "Longfellow bored inside the St. Kitts defence and dropped the ball into the net for the first tally," wrote the St. Catharines Standard.
The A's had planned to assign Art Harrison the role of checking the great Longfellow, but his absence meant that new recruit Larry Doran was given the honours. Longfellow outweighed the Montreal player by a good margin and this mismatch would be a costly one for the Athletics until a fourth-quarter assignment change.
While Doran had his hands full with the Maitlands' big star, newcomers Farney and McCarthy were shining on the A's defense. "They are big, strong players and use the body continually," wrote the Standard. "It was a treat to see them handle their checks and instruct the other defence men when the ball was on the Athletics' net."
At the other end of the field, "Maitlands were alive to the fact," wrote the Globe, "that Fitzgerald was St. Kitts most dangerous performer, and they sent Bullen out with instructions to stay right with him." But seven minutes into the second-quarter, "Fitz" broke free, took a pass at the goal-mouth and beat Torpey to tie the game at one.
The entire first half was close and the fast-paced action carried the ball from end-to-end. The scales would tip to the Maitland's favour on a couple of late goals - Pete Barnett and Longfellow doing the damage, and the teams broke after 40-minutes with the score 3 to 1 in the Maitlands favour.
The late arriving Gordie Pople was inserted into the A's line-up at "Red" Millar's third home position, and the St. Kitts' man soon scored "with Kalls in the net checking Torpey." But the Maitlands would add two more in the period on goals by "Duffy" Braden and Longfellow, his third of the day.
St. Catharines reassigned the role of Longfellow's shadow to Ed Farney for the fourth period, and although the ball stayed in the Athletics' end for most of the final twenty minutes, all of the goal scoring was completed for the day. The Maitlands claimed the first game by a 5 to 2 score, and the Athletics were now buried into a three-goal deficit in the total-goals-to-count final for the return match in St. Catharines on the following weekend.
The Toronto Globe's over-all view of the match was: "The Maitland team had the advantage of experience and they used it to good effect. Their defence was air-tight and kept the St. Kitts men so far out that they were forced to resort to long range shooting . . . Eddy Longfellow was the star of the Maitlands. He eluded his cover at will and kept Gayder busy stopping his well-directed shots. McKenzie was a tower of strength on the defence and relieved several dangerous situations. Special mention might also be made of Denneny, Barnett and Torpey."
The St. Catharines Standard offered a more positive spin on the Athletics' day: "The Maitlands played their best game of the year, and although they defeated the Athletics 5 to 2, the score does not in the least indicate the play, for the locals if anything had the margin of the game - all afternoon. The local team was simply out-lucked."
The Athletics headed home for a week of six p.m. practices while Billy Fitzgerald, still visibly hampered by his recent injury, remained on the mend for the big date to come at the "old corner lot."
THE ELEVENTH HOUR
The St. Catharines Lacrosse Grounds at the corner of Maple Street and Catherine Street were already 35 years old by the C. L. A. summer of 1918. The best seats were in the large covered grandstand, but through its long history, different alignments of auxiliary wooden stands were constructed to provide additional spectator seating. Many just stood along the north side of the field, and stayed close to the action.
The "old corner lot" had two ticket booths and was surrounded by an eight-foot high wooden fence that contained a few well-known knot-holes to offer some devoted youngsters a fleeting glimpse of their heroes. Others daringly scaled some of the nearby trees for a bird's eye view.
Public announcements and the directing of team cheers were made over a hand-held megaphone, while the spontaneous roars of the crowd would reverberate through tranquil neighbourhoods nearby and provide immediate notice of another "double-blue" goal. Horses would prick their ears, dogs awaken and growl, neighbours shout over a fence . . . something had just happened at the "corner lot."
These were the by-gone days when shops and businesses hung a "closed for the match" sign in their windows and event parking would mean areas assigned to complaint-free carriage horses. It was a time when the local XIX Battalion Band under the direction of Bandmaster Peele would provide the full game-day entertainment package, and some "sports" felt a sure thing awaited them with the open gambling available at the grounds. These were the days of over-flowing exuberance and passion, when a referee or a visiting player glanced uneasily at the noisy crowds edging towards the sidelines, or happy times when hats were flung high into the air as a local hero was carried off the field on the shoulders of a joyous mass of spectators. Big moments in a small town.
The spell that lacrosse held over St. Kitts started to weaken about the time that an unbroken string of senior titles became almost routine, blasé even, and when some of the fan-favourites like Kalls, Fitzgerald and Freddie Stagg began leaving for the fleeting glitter of the National Lacrosse Union.
But then 1918 was different, and it may even have felt to some in St. Catharines as a vindication . . . the ravenous N. L. U. well into decline, the game's best players back home again, and for the first time in almost ten years, a large patronage flocking to the venerable "corner lot."
Those who brought the pro-am C. L. A. to life in the summer of 1918 would claim it was all because they didn't want to see their sport die. It wasn't without sacrifice or risk . . . the old pros did it for little more than their love of the sport, while the amateurs risked future O. A. L. A. banishment for even playing alongside the pros. But then the fan response in St. Catharines seemed to validate, on the local level at least, all of the grand efforts to rejuvenate lacrosse. It began to feel like old times.
All that could be done now was to win a championship.
The Athletics searched for an edge with daily practices at the grounds in preparation for the Saturday rematch. At the Island, the new recruits had turned the team's defense from a weakness to a strength. But now the strength of the home field, which revolved so much around the talents of Billy Fitzgerald, was clearly shaken as he still struggled with a nagging injury.
On Wednesday, rain cancelled the practice but a club house "chalk talk" was given by Georgie Kalls and some good news was passed along from Ottawa import Art Harrison. "A letter was received from Harrison, the big defence fielder," reported the St. Catharines Standard, "that he would be here for Saturday's game." Ho-ho, how the defense looked rock-solid now.
"It's all up to the home. If that end of the field can get going there is no reason under the sun why they cannot score eight or nine goals on the Maitlands," claimed the Standard.
Saturday October 5th opened with the feel of early autumn . . . cool and overcast . . . hopefully the rain would hold.
The box office windows opened, one on Oak Street and the other at the corner of Maple and Catherine, and once the people started to stream in through the gates, fully 3,200 strong, the old grounds were young again. The Standard described it as, "a crowd of red-hot enthusiasts of old-time proportions." All was not bad.
Usually Canadian Army trainees from Camp Niagara at Niagara-on-the-Lake were conspicuous at the Athletics' home games of that summer; uniforms pressed, buttons polished. But on this championship Saturday, they were noticeably absent as the entire camp was now under quarantine with their initial outbreak of the Spanish Flu. The world-wide pandemic that would ultimately claim an estimated 20 to 40 million lives was close to home. All was not good.
Referee Querrie sounded his whistle, Braden of the Maitlands and Millar of the A's approached, and the ball was faced.
The Maitlands hopped on the ball and tested goalkeeper John Gayder early with a couple of hot ones. But at once, the Athletics secured the ball and quickly went to work on reducing their three-goal final series deficit. And in just ten minutes, the goal differential was eliminated after a pair of Willie Hope goals and one by Fitzgerald. "With a determination to wipe the lead off the slate, the Saints started in at a lightning pace and did not let up until the whistle sounded," wrote the Standard. The first quarter ended 3 to 0 for the Athletics and the two game goals-to-count series was tied at 5.
The Athletics sustained their all-out approach into the next quarter. After allowing the Maitlands onto the board, the A's rapidly cashed in three more in the next 4 minutes . . . Kalls, Welsh and Pople bringing the crowd jumping to their feet each time. But the crowd also reacted angrily towards referee Querrie as stiff blows to Kalls and Hope went uncalled. And then when Athletics cover-point Norman "Chatter" May was penalized on a similar play, things really stirred up in the grand stand. "No one was ruled off when the two St. Kitts players were put out of commission," the Standard reported, "and when Querrie penalized May for three minutes for hitting Barnett, there was a protest by Manager Kalls. When Frank Dixon, a former St. Kitts player and club president, protested from the side lines, Querrie stopped the game to assert his authority."
The teams would trade goals to close the first half; Gord Pople with his second and Eddie Longfellow for the Maitlands. But the talk at this point was all Athletics . . . of their high-energy, swarming, attacking, determined play . . . and how they earned a 7 to 2 half-time lead on the game, and more importantly, a 9 to 7 lead on the two-game goals-to-count final.
At half-time, umbrellas popped open as the threatening skies finally unloaded in a cruel downpour. The field quickly slicked up and growing pools of water could be seen here and there. Aside from the covered grand stand, thousands of spectators stood firm under a drenching rain.
And nobody moved towards the exits.
The teams jogged from the club house and splashed their way onto the field for the final half of this lacrosse season. And for many of them, it would be the final lacrosse of their careers. A growing noise arose from the grandstand as the Athletics came into sight and some of the players acknowledged the kind support. The four imports from Montreal were well received, and most thought the money was put to good use...but too bad Harrison was a no-show again, the big defender may have worked effectively against the mighty Longfellow. The fan's faith remained strong. The boys had stepped up through forty minutes and defied their critics to shake loose the Maitland's tight hold on a title.
But there was still forty minutes to go.
The fans were again on their feet when Ed Farney rushed out of the A's end and carried the ball right in on Bud Torpey. But as the big Montrealer prepared to shoot, his footing on the wet turf failed and the opportunity was ungracefully lost. Each team would score once before the rain stopped, and then the visitors got down to business. "Maitlands pressed hard giving Gayder a busy spell," wrote the Standard. "A quick cross-field combination gave Maitlands their fourth on a shot from Longfellow. Then Braden broke away from Millar and started a team play which netted another, Longfellow scoring on a pass from Rowland."
The quarter ended with the the A's game lead cut to an 8 to 5 margin, and the championship very much in the balance as the two-game goal total was now even at ten apiece. The advantage gained today by the A's was surrendered back, and as we saw before, it was the stick of Eddie Longfellow that did much of the damage.
If the legendary Billy Fitzgerald glanced towards the stands of the "old corner lot" as the teams broke for the final quarter, he may have sensed all the hopes and expectations his townspeople carried for his old-time brilliance now that the season was on the line. But the toll of injuries had set limits on that magic, and by now, he was a spent force. "Fitzgerald was responsible for many brilliant plays in the first half," wrote the Toronto Globe, "but lacked sufficient condition to last out the long route."
Ed Farney, the recruited Montreal "Irish-Canadian" defender, picked up the torch in the fourth quarter and almost single-handedly stole the win for the St. Catharines Athletics with a series of daring, long-run charges. On four different excursions deep into Maitland territory he came close to scoring, only to be foiled each time by Bud Torpey. Then late in the period, Maitland defender Braden started an attack of his own before feeding the ball to Longfellow as he broke in. Now it was Gayder with the colossal save, but the rebound agonizingly went to Rowland and he made no mistake. The Maitlands had what seemed to be the championship winning goal in place and with five minutes left, they went into a defensive shell.
The desperate Athletics and notably Farney, pressed to the attack. "Farney, one of the Montreal imports, was the most conspicuous figure in the field," wrote the Globe. "Fully a dozen times in the last five minutes of play, he led rushes on the Maitlands net from his position on the defence."
The St. Catharines Standard would add, "St. Kitts had most of the ball in the remainder of the game but could not reach the nets. The whistle blew with a St. Kitts attack in progress." And suddenly, it was over.
The Athletics won the game by 8 to 6. But for the two game total, they were down by 11 to 10.
The Toronto Maitlands were the champions of the 1918 Canadian Lacrosse Association.
There wasn't a trophy, or a cup or a shield to present to the victors and hold high on that day. But did it matter? Likely the players of both teams; all wet, and cold, and muddy and exhausted, walked towards each other and offered their hands in congratulations. It had been a skillful, rigorous, and for the most part, clean final, and it is easy to imagine a common level of respect between these two groups of adversaries. And it is also easy to imagine the spectators standing and applauding the teams as they walked tiredly towards the club house, some looking back and holding their sticks high in a salute returned. The moment would come and then slip away without record. And in time, the retold stories of that day, of "Kallie" and Barnett, of the graceful "Fitz" and the mighty Longfellow, of common gallantry and old-time heroes . . . and all the stuff of folk legends . . . would gradually fade and then disappear completely.
In 1919, many of the St. Catharines Athletics faced O. A. L. A. bans for participating in the Canadian Lacrosse Association of 1918. Frantic efforts were made to resurrect the pro-am league, but with many of the Maitland stars going into retirement, and the Leaside team losing their base at the munitions factory with the war ending, the entire proposal collapsed. St. Catharines was in a senior lacrosse wilderness until players could re-obtain their amateur cards, and only then would the old "double-blues" be admitted to the O. A. L. A. in 1921.
The St. Catharines Lacrosse Grounds, commonly called the "old corner lot," had been a community focal point for a small city since 1883. But the march of time brings many changes and even before 1918, the grounds had become the proposed site of a much needed high school. A debate ensued that pitted progress versus heritage, future versus the past, and the importance of education versus the escapism of sport. The decline in popularity of lacrosse in the war years seemed to cement the fate of the grounds. But 1918 would for the moment breathe new live into the "old corner lot" with the rush of passionate crowds, the stratospheric level of play, the edge-of-your-seat excitement, and with something that seemed very tangible, civic pride. Lacrosse is back was the rallying cry.
But nothing of 1918 C. L. A. lacrosse was sustainable. The old stars retired, the war had taken a lacrosse generation away, if not in body then certainly in spirit, and then into the 1920's, much of the old magic was gone. The "old corner lot" was cleared in 1922 and the high school was finally built on the site. Field lacrosse in St. Catharines would relocate to the Thomas Street park . . . unfenced and without seating . . . and though the city promised to build a new stadium adjacent to the high school, lacrosse had a feel of abandonment at the once proudly proclaimed, "Home of Lacrosse."
In many respects, 1918 was the end of an era.
In 1919, Eddie Longfellow briefly came out of retirement to play just one mid-season game for the last professional field lacrosse team in Ottawa. And in 1931, he coached of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the short-lived International Professional Lacrosse League in the new game of box lacrosse. Corbett Denneny and "Duffy" Braden from the 1918 Maitlands would play for Longfellow's 1931 Leafs, while "Newsy" Lalonde coached the rival Montreal Canadien lacrosse team. Longfellow would equal his lacrosse successes in the corporate world, and rose to be President of the Canada Electric Company as well as a leading figure in the Canadian Construction Association. Edward Longfellow, the great star of the 1918 Canadian Lacrosse Association, would pass away in 1959.
By 1918, C. L. A. President and occasional referee Charlie Querrie had been the manager of Toronto's Mutual Street Arena for six years, and in 1919, he would buy a major interest in the Toronto St. Pats hockey club for $400. He coached that N. H. L. team in 1922-23 and 1923-24 before passing over the job to 1918 Maitland's player Eddie Powers. Later, Querrie would sell his share of the St. Pats to Conn Smythe for $50,000, and the team's name was then changed to the familiar Maple Leafs. Querrie always stayed involved with lacrosse. In May of 1922, he organized a eight-a-side indoor lacrosse game in his Mutual Street Arena between St. Simons and the Eddie Longfellow coached Beaches seniors, a very early precursor to the box game that would eventually take over the Canadian game. And with the 1930 passing of James Murphy, the fabled manager of the old N. L. U. Torontos Lacrosse Club, Querrie donated the James Murphy Memorial Trophy to the O. A. L. A. That M. V. P. trophy is still in use to this day in Major Series Lacrosse. Charlie Querrie, the once razor-thin Markham kid who became a great Toronto Tecumseh lacrosse star and manager, would pass away in 1950 at the age of 71.
English born referee Fred Waghorne was credited with first introducing netting for goals, and thus ending many a bitter argument about close shots that skimmed past the post. He would say in his later years that he figured he officiated in 2,400 hockey games and 1,500 lacrosse games. In the 1930's, his son Fred Jr. became President of Ontario Amateur Lacrosse Association. Fred Sr. would pass away in 1956 at the age of 88.
Willie Hope and George Kalls retired after that October 1918 title game, each scoring twice in their last appearance at the "old corner lot." Hope became a fireman and was heavily involved in the local lacrosse association as a coach and manager. In twenty years time, he would watch his son George be a integral part of an Athletics' Mann Cup championship team in the game of box lacrosse. And Kalls moved to Lockport, New York but still made regular appearances at St. Catharines Oldboy Lacrosse functions. In 1954 he would participate in a box lacrosse old-timers game at the St. Catharines' Haig Bowl and create a stir as an energetic and agile 70-year-old, 25 to 30 years older than the other not-so-old old-timers. "Strangest thing of all, the next day I didn't even feel sore," claimed Kalls. George Kalls passed away in 1963.
Billy Fitzgerald's intermittent playing career would continue with a brief appearance with the N. L. U. Cornwall Colts in 1919 followed by a couple of partial seasons in British Columbia.
The long-running eastern Canada pro league would disappear for good after 1920.
Con Jones persistently tried to resurrect professional lacrosse on the west coast, and in 1921 he asked "Fitz" to coach and play for a Victoria team that Jones created specifically to play against his Vancouver club. Fitzgerald brought along brother Tom and St. Kitts goal-keep John Gayder to join his Victoria Capitals, but when New Westminster refused to be part of the Jones' gambit, the two-team league failed to gain a following and disbanded in June.
Then in 1924, Fitzgerald would answer the call once again from Con Jones, now to play for his Vancouver Terminals of the B. C. L. A. He was the team's leading scorer when the all too familiar pattern returned, the season was abruptly abandoned in June. And so ended the playing career of Fitzgerald.
But "Fitz" also had a nice career as a U. S. university lacrosse coach, first at Hobart University, and then later at Swarthmore near Philadelphia and at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. And then there was always a game to referee somewhere.
In 1926, 38-year-old Billy Fitzgerald underwent surgery for gallstones. But soon he developed serious peritonitis, and tragically passed away on June 30th. A lacrosse legend, gone so soon.
Fred Jacob wrote in the June 15, 1926 edition of MacLean's magazine, "to my way of thinking, Billy Fitzgerald, who started in St. Catharines and played later in Vancouver and Toronto, was the greatest fielder ever produced in the game. He had the almost uncanny combination of speed and judgment."
Charlie Querrie would say in 1930, "to me, the greatest of all home players around 1910 was the late Billy Fitzgerald of St. Catharines, who was brought to Toronto by that wonderful lacrosse general, the late Jimmy Murphy. Fitzgerald was lightning fast; could shoot and stick handle, and had plenty of brains and courage." (O. A. L. A. Publication)
On September 26, 1926, St. Catharines hosted two Fitzgerald memorial games at the Thomas Street Park, one that featured a team of local players that were put together for the day to play the current senior O. A. L. A. Maitlands (and won!), and the other was a match of old-timers. The "legends" game was between "Kalls' St. Kitts Pros" and "Querrie's Toronto Pros" and included 1918 C. L. A. players Pete Barnett, Billy Braden, Eddie Longfellow, Jack McKenzie, Fred Rowntree, "Silver" Spellen and Lawson Whitehead from the Maitlands, and Harry Flynn, Willie Hope, George Kalls and Jimmy Sullivan from the Athletics.
Lionel Conacher, a multi-sport legend and still very much in his prime, played for the Kalls' team and one-time Torontos' manager Jimmy Murphy refereed.
1,500 were in attendance that day and the funds raised went to the Fitzgerald family. Fitzgerald's son Bill Jr. would himself become a lacrosse great and hall-of-famer, and would be a fleet-footed goal scorer on the 1938, 1940 and 1941 Athletics' Mann Cup championship teams.
Throughout the late summer and fall of 1918, the great lacrosse entrepreneur Con Jones tried to organize a Minto Cup showdown between his Vancouver team and a challenger from the east. But the delays in crowning a Canadian Lacrosse Association champion would eliminate any possibility of that. The year ended with Jones promising to finance and host a Minto Cup tournament in the spring of 1919 involving the C. L. A. Maitlands, the N. L. U. Ottawa Capitals, and Vancouver.
But holding those teams together at that time was near impossible and along with the ongoing crisis of the Spanish Flu pandemic in Canada as well as across the globe, the great 1919 lacrosse festival would never happen. The usually optimistic Jones voiced his disenchantment with the state of lacrosse when he said in July of 1919, "Lacrosse is as dead on the Coast as it is here, and whilst I am going to make a try to get into the hockey ring, I cannot but admit that soccer presents the greatest field for my future sporting interest." (The Montreal Gazette, 7/15/1919).
The final entry on this story is the end of hostilities in the European war. The combatants agreed to stop fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. As the final couple of minutes ticked down to the cease-fire, 25-year-old Private George Price, a Saskatchewan farm labourer before getting his conscription notice in October 1917, was killed by a sniper near the Belgian city of Mons . . . the last Canadian and British Commonwealth casualty of the war.
Canada contributed about 620,000 people to the war effort and close to 60,000 didn't return home.