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Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Wheelmen of Brockville

Members of the first Brockville Cycling Club

1883

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Alex. L. Murray  and  Crawford McClean

This is a studio photograph of two of the founding members of the Brockville Cycling Club posed on their new “High-Wheel Bicycles.” Alex Murray was the junior partner with his father, George B. Murray in the company, Murray & Son, photographers. Crawford McClean was the son of the late Judge Worship B. McClean, and lived at 35 Hartley St. in his father’s brick home.  Besides taking part in country tours, the racers of the local clubs were known to race around the track at the Driving Park, near Ormond St. and Central Ave. where the annual Agricultural Fair was held.


Bicycle development led to further improvements, including a high-wheel tricycle, and placing the small wheel in the front, but soon chain-drives, triangular configured frames and equal sized pneumatic-tired wheels arrived on the scene. This was when young women abandoned their bustles and corsets, and joined the bicycle revolution which forced women to adapt to more “common sense dressing.”

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Young sportsmen around the world were quick to embrace the new sport of cycling in the early 1880s. Brockville was no exception. The new “High-Wheel” bicycles were being built of metal because of the advance of steel metallurgy in the late 1870s. With a large front wheel, solid-rubber tires, a high saddle and handle bars, followed by a smaller trailing wheel, it required a new kind of skill and athleticism to peddle these cycles.


Because the motive power on these cycles was a pair of peddles connected directly to the front wheel, the oversized wheel contributed to more distance traveled and speed with one rotation of the peddles.


The high-wheelers cost a small fortune to purchase. They could cost an average worker six month’s pay, but gained a great popularity among young men of means. In towns like Brockville, Lyn, Prescott, and Cardinal, small groups of bicyclists formed clubs to share their passion for riding. According to records kept by the Canadian Cycling Association, the Brockville Cycling Club was the first registered club in Canada.


The roads of the day were rough, often causing accidental falls and tumbles. Any small rut or stone could send a balanced rider over the handlebars and down to the ground in what was known as “taking a header.”


The local bicycle clubs took part in touring and racing in the 1890s, at times working toward building special cinder-paved bike trails alongside the existing roads. Periodically articles found in the local newspapers reported on efforts to raise money for these bicycle tracks such as one from Brockville to Lyn (1896), or from the “Dew Drop Inn” (on the Kingston Rd at Lyn Road) westwardly (1898).


Other Brockville wheelmen mentioned in local reports, in addition to the two in the photo, included: Capt. Ernie Bissett, Dr. Robert A. Bowie, brothers, Charles S. and Fremont B. Cossitt, Edwin Weatherhead, and Harry Going, the secretary of the club.


In May of 1897 a small item in the newspaper reported that a locally-made bicycle could be purchased at Dobbie’s Hardware Store for $60. It was the product of a young mechanic named Fred Ruetsch, who previously had worked at Stearn’s Bicycle Co. in Syracuse

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Sources: Most of the bits of information about the local bicycle club has been collected by the Brockville Museum, but no detailed history of the Brockville Bicycle Club has been found yet. This photograph was one of two given to the museum 1981 by W. Stanley Adams, who owned a jewellery store on King Street.

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copyright-feb-2009

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