(By Donald Fraser, Victoria, B.C.)
Sports nowadays get into the professional class so soon that the average small boy is crowded out; in olden days it was not so, every boy had a chance in the game. Our amusements were simple, but thoroughly enjoyed. In summer, boating, cricket, quoits, swimming, fishing, shooting. In winter, shinny, skating, coasting, show-shoeing. Some may remember our first regatta. it was a great event. Neil McLean, of the Bank of Montreal, was the head and front of this, and of all our aquatic sports. Boats of all sizes, punts, monitors, bark canoes, and all kinds of craft were classed and started in due form. The course was from the long bridge to a buoy near the burying ground bridge and return. The Royal Dane took the principal race of the day; she was called after our beloved Queen, who that year wedded our Gracious King. In the evening an illumination took place on the water. The Royal Dane sported a beautiful crown, prepared by Ned Spillman. Neil McLean called his boat the Fair Maid of Perth. Very suggestive as it afterwards turned out, although nothing was suspected at the time.
We called our cricket club the Victoria. Dick Northgraves was the moving spirit in the club and suggested the name. Our bats and wickets were made by John Kavanagh, turned out in the old carding mill, where he used the water power to turn his lathe. The wickets were all right, but the bats, made of solid hard maple, three times the weight of the regulation bat, were quite guiltless of any spring in the handle. We were proud of them, nevertheless, and many a good match we played.
There was a narrow neck of land between the basin and the river, a favorite place for pitching quoits. Bill Lister was par excellence, the champion at this sport. I have seen a good deal of quoit pitching in the west, but I have never seen his match. He pitched with the left hand and I think could cut the feather nine [seems to be a line missing here].
Probably the most enjoyable sport to the average small boy is fishing. I don’t know what it is like now, but in my day the Tay was the boy’s paradise. How alluring its clear, soft limpid water and abounding in fish of all kinds and sizes. We fished for pickerel off the long bridge at the juncture of the Little River and caught them, too. We speared suckers from the parapet of Lock‘s bridge. Our spears had about ten feet of handle and twenty or thirty feet of stout cord attached; this was thrown with great force and unerring aim.
But the favorite spot was Haggart‘s mill. In early days trespassers were not allowed on the Dr. Thom farm; we were afraid of the dogs, but more afraid of the terrible hired man. How often we have waded round the fence at the old potash and crawled almost on our hands and knees along the margin of the river past the grand old elm tree and reached the little flat rock close to the slide, our pockets filled with worms for bait. There was a small piece of water between the dam and the slide, deep and always covered with foam, quite still, all the rest of the water raging like a small Niagara. That pool was inexhaustible.
For ducks we used to go to Grant’s Creek and down the river as far as Pelton’s Bay. For pigeons, Matthew Bell‘s harvest fields and John Spalding‘s, down the Ferry road. Wiseman‘s swamp used to yield up a goodly number of muskrats every spring, but I expect all this old time sport has passed away, never to return. Before the days of skating rinks, we were very well satisfied with the old basin to begin with and occasionally after a thaw the river would give us splendid skating for some time. In those days boys had everything; girls nothing. The skating rinks improved this very materially. Our sisters and cousins joined us in this most delightful of all out-door recreations. We were indebted to Judge Deacon and Mr. G. A. Keefer principally, for our first rink; it was build alongside the Little River, near the long bridge. It was a great success, but proved quite inadequate to rhe requirements of the town. A much larger one was built, I think the following year, about on the site of the old Gourlay tannery on the property of the Hon. R. Matheson.
What happy times! But I must write carefully here; the child of Mrs. Jessop‘s kindergarten has grown into a susceptible youth. When I think of the Bells, Mallochs, Mathesons, McMartins, Moffatts, Thompsons, Templetons, Wordies, Haggarts, Dunhams, Deacons, Radenhursts, and many others a flood of tender memories is unloosed which can never be dried up.