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Category Archives: Athletes

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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Bohemian Athletic Club

51 Jessie Street, Brockville

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1899 Champions – Bohemian War Canoe Team

bohemian-canoe-club-ca1899This photograph, taken in 1899, shows the 15 Bohemian Club paddlers in their war canoe, a young boy, and two club officials. Identified has been Frank Black, captain, first on the left, Alf Doran, 9th from the left, George L Horton, President of the Bohemian Athletic Club, standing on the left, with George C. Howison on the right. From newspaper accounts, we know that the following young men took part in the first years of the athletic club: N. Abbott, A. Champagne, William Daniels Jr., W. Deir, A. Fortier, Guilboard, John Hilliard, R. Lunney, John Monahan Jr., G. Morrison, J. Nicol, H. Price, Fred Robinson, Fred Timleck, Frank Timleck, Willy Timleck, I Wadham, and W. Winifred. This crew won most of their races in the club’s second year of operation and beat all comers in the northern division championships in Gananoque.

The Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association was established about 1898 to provide paddling and lacrosse experiences for the young men of Brockville. Their first achievement came the next year with a 15 man war canoe team which went on to great success in their first season.

June 7, 1899 was the first anniversary of the opening of the Bohemian Club House on Jessie St. The occasion was celebrated with the launching of their new war canoe, a boat about 30 ft. long by 3 ft. wide and holding 15 paddlers. George P. Graham MPP, and secretary of the club, officiated at a gala event in the evening which included a concert by the band of the 41st Battalion of Rifles, and culminating with a dance to the music of Prof. Stenson’s full orchestra.

The sport of canoeing gained a new interest in the Town of Brockville with the first races in June of 1899. A team was mounted by the established Brockville Rowing Club, and the “sports” of the YMCA placed an order for a new war canoe with Nelson Gilbert of Brockville and looked forward to its delivery. The Bohemians started practicing in earnest. Their team was made up of working class young men, some of them employed in factories like the James Smart Foundry.

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This photo was taken during one of the canoe races held in Brockville and shows the big canoe of the Bohemian Club with captain, Frank Black at the helm.


The first organized race was held in Gananoque on July 1st. The Dominion Day events included yachting, rowing and bicycle races, but a lot of interest was centred on the war canoes and a race between the Brockville Rowing Club and the Bohemian Club. The canoe of the Kingston Club did not arrive for them to take part. The Bohemian canoe was the clear winner in this race taking home a handsome silver cup on their first outing.

The next occasion to race was in Brockville on July 18 when the Firemen’s Field Days were held in Brockville. On that occasion, a team from Vaudrueil, Quebec came to show the Brockville boats a bit of spray. The race, however, came off with the Bohs winning by a length and a half, and the BRC second.

The next big challenge to overcome would be the eastern Ontario meeting of all teams at the American Canoe Association (Northern Division) competition at Gananoque on August 14, 1899. In the morning race about a dozen crews were entered, including, Ottawa Britannias, Dorval Juniors, Toronto, Ottawas, Kingston Cataraquais, Brockville Rowing Club, and the Bohemians of Brockville. The Bohemians registered the win by a close margin as the top three canoes finished one second apart. The BRC was seventh in the race.

That year they were also the winners of the Walker Cup at the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen championships.

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The club house and storage buildings of the Bohemian Athletic Club were located on the shore south of Jessie St. The club was founded in 1898 and took over possession of the property of the former Chaffey Bros. Lumber business. This sports facility was located just east of Lachapelle & Sons, boat builders.

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Sources: Most of the information about this war canoe team has been hard to puzzle together. Thanks to Chris Stesky, formerly a reporter with the Recorder & Times, for searching the newspaper microfilm. The excellent photograph of the crew at the top, formerly in the collection of George C. Howison, was in the possession of his daughters, Helen and Marion Howison. It was taken by Alex L. Murray of Murray & Son, photographers of Brockville.

Brockville Lacrosse Team – 1886

July 28, 1886

Here are the members of the winning Brockville Lacrosse Club for 1886 who defeated the Ottawa Capitals for the Intermediate Championship of the National Amateur Lacrosse Association, as described by O.K Fraser in the article below.

Back row: Donald Brouse, Jack Bennett, O.K. Fraser (president), Myles Bourke (captain), Jack O’Keefe, Alex. J. Murray.

Second row: George E Smart, Alex. Patterson, Dave Lowe, Mike McBrearty, Frank Bisonette, Charlie Ellard.

Front row: William Anderson (goalie), Jim Lacey.

Oliver K. Fraser of Brockville, the Clerk of the High Court, gave the following interview to a reporter from the Montreal Star in 1907:

That group photo you see hanging on the wall recalls what was to me the most interesting and exciting sporting event I can remember. It is a picture of the Brockville Lacrosse Club of that year, taken on the 28th of July 1886, the Monday following their famous match at Brockville with the all-star Capital team of that day.
The battle was for the intermediate championship which had been won by Brockville from the Young Shamrocks the preceding year, and the winning of it by the Capitals would be followed by their almost immediate admission to senior championship ranks. This meant much to them. That they had reason to expect to take the banner home with them is manifest from a perusal of the names of the men comprising their team, which, starting from goal, were: Aylward, Billy McKay, Burns, Droohan, Kemp, Myles, Ditchburn, O’Brien, Burke, Pete Green, Dailey and Joe Kent, and F.L. Daniels, captain.
Long before the match, the Brockvilles realized the work cut out for them, but determined not to lie down. No team ever did more faithful training, with the result that when the ball was faced that day, in the opinion of those who knew them, there was not in existence a more evenly balanced or better trained team playing the great game.
For three days of the week preceding the match the Cornwall Island Indian team was brought to play matches with the Brockvilles in order that their condition might be perfect.
Commencing again at goal, they were Bill Anderson, Alex. Patterson, Don Brouse, “Fogey” Smart, Jack Bennett, Jim Leacy, Frank Bisonette, Charlie Ellard, Aleck Murray, Jack O’Keefe, Dave Low and Mike McBrearty, with Myles Bourke, captain.
It was a perfect day, and the people gathered from all round — Ottawa sending in carloads of it’s best sports. And they had their money with them — barrels of it — more than our sports could or cared to handle. The odds were two to one on Capitals. They were confident, while we were content with being hopeful.
Best three out of five games was the rule in those days. The favorite referee of that time — John Lewis of Montreal — was in charge. The excitement before and during the game was intense, but the job was not long in the doing of it, for in fourteen minutes actual play, Brockville scored three games and the match.
The pandemonium broke loose. Every Brockville sympathizer, from the toothless old man to the babe in arms, proceeded to yell himself hoarse, and the ladies were not far behind them in the demonstration. Bands played, horns blew, and every ear rending instrument known to the small boy was introduced to swell the tumult, and only the arrival of Sunday morning put an end to the jubilation.
The game was the cleanest I ever witnessed, and there could be no doubt that this cleanliness of play and the success of the Brockville team was due to their faithful training and perfect condition upon entering the field. Those were great days for sport in Brockville.”

Sources: The memories recalled by O.K. Fraser, ex-president of the N.A.L.A., about his team, was found reprinted in The Evening Recorder of January 16, 1907. The next issue showed this team photograph which had originally been printed in the 1906 souvenir magazine, Brockville, Canada, The City of the Thousand Islands printed by the Brockville Recorder for the Old Boys’ Reunion held in Brockville from July 28 to Aug. 3, 1906.

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