History of the A's

 
 

The Old Grounds Remembered

 

THE OLD LACROSSE GROUNDS 

THAT’S WHERE THE SPORTS ACTION WAS

by HENRY P. NICHOLSON

The St. Catharines Standard

Saturday June 19, 1976 

What great changes have taken place in that area of St. Catharines, on Catherine St. from Maple to Elm Streets, where now stands the Collegiate Institute and Vocational School.

Born and living one block west of the Collegiate until 30 years of age, I was quite familiar with this area in my boyhood days. On Catherine between Maple and Elm Streets, approximately where the front entrance of the Collegiate is today, was Oak Street. It ran to the back of the lots on Wall St. (now Woodland) and was a dead-end street.

Before my time, between 1864 – 1874, a Mr. Edward James purchased the property (except lot 16) from Oak St. to Elm St. and from Catherine St. to the back lots on Wall St., and called it “Cremorne Gardens.” A considerable part of this area was covered with trees. Mr. James was a nurseryman and florist.

An 1877 advertisement records the following – “Cremorne Gardens, Catherine Street Florist has on hand all kinds of choicest bedding and window plants, in great variety, during April, May and June. Also choice grapevines, etc. – Cremorne Park is acknowledged the best place in the city for picnics, excursions, and pleasure parties.”

By my early days, 1905 – 15, Cremorne Park was gone, changes had taken place on Catherine Street. Mr. Daniel Hetherington, a former schoolteacher, now school inspector, lived in the large house near Oak St. with a barn and some other buildings of the former florist greenhouses.

I went to school with Mamie and Bert Hetherington and played tennis many times at their place. The late Fred Hetherington, a local lawyer, was a member of this family. Along Catherine St. to Elm, were the homes of Peter Leith, Jack Downey, and Wm. Bennett and around on Elm St. lived Chas. Joy, father of Jimmy Joy, a great trainer.

On the north side of Oak St., down to Maple St. and from Catherine to Wall St. was open land. This was the “Old Lacrosse Grounds.” The Athletic Lacrosse Club was established in 1877.

The old Lacrosse Grounds was not like what you might see today if you go to Montreal to see the 1976 Olympics. Nevertheless in 1890’s and to 1905–6, visiting teams from Montreal, Cornwall and Toronto coming to play the Athletics drew crowds of 6,000 to 7,000. Lacrosse was the sport of that day.

An eight-foot high, closed board fence fenced in this piece of property. There were a few knotholes that boys used to peek through to see the game. I have no recollection of it ever being painted, nor were the grandstands painted.

On Catherine St. at Oak St., was a building that had two ticket windows and about 10 feet on was the entrance gate. In this building were two individual dressing rooms and a common shower between them. No lockers in those days. Just a row of nails along the wall for your clothes and some benches to sit on. The shower was a platform raised 10 inches off the floor and lined with galvanized sheeting. You guess it – the only supply of water was “Cold.”

A familiar figure always seen at every game, standing outside by the entrance, was “Joe” with his white, glass-enclosed popcorn machine. On Thursday evenings, “Joe” would be at the band concerts in Montebello Park.

Inside the grounds you came to some bleachers about 10 rows high and shaded by tall trees. Farther on at the centre of the grounds was a covered grandstand over 100 feet long with 10 rows of seats that you paid extra for, plus another set of bleachers with no protection from the sun or rain. In the corner near Wall Street was the usual outside plumbing accommodations of that period. There was a three-foot wooden fence between the bleachers and the playing field.

On Catherine Street at the corner of Maple was another ticket window and entrance gate. Inside, about ten feet from the high board fence and running the full length of the field, was a four-foot high wire fence for standing room only. Outside the high board fence along Maple Street and about 10 feet from the fence was a row of trees. It was the common practice of men with single horse drays to drive between the trees and fence, and stand on the drays and have a good view of the games. There were many others who climbed upon the drays besides the owner.

Many of the lacrosse players lived in that area of St. Patrick’s Ward and I knew them as neighbours. Frank and Reuben Williams lived across George Street from my home. George Kalls was across Edmund Street from my home. Lorne Tufford, a relative of Tom Hopgood, was another player I knew well. There was Jack Downey, George Bennett and Joe Bowdler on Catherine Street. Several carpenters who worked for my father played lacrosse. On Saturday afternoon I would be waiting at Catherine and Edmund Streets to carry Bill Glintz’s club bag so that I could get in the game for free. Bill worked for my father.

I still have memories of many lacrosse games played at the Old Lacrosse Grounds. Vivid is my memory of Tony Dixon in goal at the Catherine Street end of the grounds, when he received a shot on goal he just scooped it over his head and the ball went over the fence on Catherine Street.

The Shamrocks from Toronto always provided much excitement. They were the “fighting Irish,” but we had boys that were their equal. Ed Hagan, Ed Harris and Murray Stagg would soon be in the fray. One man seen at all games was Dr. Chapman. He always carried his little black bag and when a player was hurt he was on the job promptly. Many of my pals of that period, like myself, still remember Dr. Chapman, but not with his little black bag. Whenever a fight started, Doc. Chapman was the first out of the grandstand onto the field with both fists swinging.

There were so many names I could record that I remember. There was John Dawson, not a player but president of the Athletics for many years and a strong supporter of the club. Trainers like J. Allen, C. Honsinger and Hedley Phipps. Billy Fitzgerald Sr., Bill Hope and George Kalls were outstanding in field lacrosse. I remember seeing the players on the defense receive the ball and run three-quarters the length of the field – about 100 yards – then pass it to Billy Kalls or “Dubous” MacGlashan on the home. These two small but very fast players would twist and turn, elude the big defensemen and backhand it in the net. Every bit as exciting as what you see in box lacrosse.

For many years in lacrosse and baseball the name of one local family was always in print, “The Gayders.” They were John, Fred, Art and Frank, and they all gave a good account of themselves in every game they played.

In the years 1900 – 1910, the Athletics Lacrosse team had a great supporter in W. B. Burgoyne, the founder of the St. Catharines Standard. Looking over the Standard of 1903 – 4, I noticed that every Monday’s paper had large front-page coverage of the game that was played on Saturday afternoon. No wonder they drew such large crowds.

The Old Lacrosse Grounds was used for other activities than lacrosse, baseball and rugby. Barbeques and other civic celebrations were held there; the Collegiate Institute held it’s annual field day, as did the different churches in St. Catharines.

Around 1930, box lacrosse replaced field lacrosse after the “Old Lacrosse Grounds” had been taken over for the Collegiate Institute and Vocational School in 1923.

see layout of the old lacrosse grounds...Map of the Lacrosse Grounds

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