More Adventures in SW Ontario: Baseball, Crokinole, Swans and Stuff

More adventures in SW Ontario
Baseball, Crokinole, Swans and stuff

Beachville-Embro-Tavistock-Shakespeare-Stratford-St. Marys
by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz

June 7, 2008: Today would turn out to be an interesting day with loads of variety.  I headed out around 8:30 after sleeping in.  I then headed west on county road 9 towards the small village of Beachville, Ontario, which is between Woodstock and Ingersoll. Beachville is where the first recorded game of baseball was played, at least in Canada, if not in N. America.  I also made a visit to the World Crokinole Championships.  If you have not heard of Crokinole, you’ll know what it is after reading this.  After that I made a venture into Perth County, visiting Shakespeare, Stratford and St. Marys. Some beautiful spots.  After this day of events, I returned to the hotel, showered and then headed to Bright, Ontario to see the Walters Family Dinner Show.  I have done a separate page on that visit.

Beachville: This is a small town just west of Woodstock founded in 1791.  The town was NOT named because of a nearby beach.  Rather, it was named after Andrew Beach, who was the postmaster. The town also claims to have had the first post office and grist mill in Canada. I am not sure how many people live here, but there aren’t many.  But, the town does have its claim to fame being noted for the first game of baseball ever played on June 4, 1838, one year before the game in Cooperstown took place. This game was played by the Beachville Club and the Zorras.  This event is now commemorated at the Beachville District Museum.


According to the history, a group of men gathered in a Beachville pasture on June 4, 1838 to enjoy a friendly game of baseball and had little idea that they were making history. Their match was the first recorded baseball game in North America. Beachville’s claim is based upon a letter to “Sporting Life” magazine by Dr. Adam E. Ford detailing the rules and recalling the names of the various players. On April 26, 1886, Dr. Ford, a physician who had grown up in Beachville and emigrated to Denver, Colorado, wrote the letter describing the June 4, 1838 match. Ford’s letter confirmed that the game had a long history in his community since: “certain rules for the game” were insisted upon by two of the older “gray
haired” players, “for it was the way they used to play when they were boys.” The importance of Ford’s letter lies in the fact that it provides the first formally recorded account of baseball as a formal game.  In this letter, the game was described as having five bases or “byes,” base lines twenty-one yards in length and the distance from the pitcher to the home bye was fifteen yards. Innings determined the length of the game as opposed to playing to a specific number of runs. Fairly and unfairly pitched balls were described and techniques mentioned for the pitcher to make it difficult for the “knocker” to hit the ball. The differences between “fair and” “no-hit” balls were described and each side was given three outs per inning. Base running became even more exhilarating because you did not have to follow a straight path to the next bye, (or base). If in danger of being plugged you could take off into the outfield, and while fielders then had the chance to “plug” you, other runners could advance.

Field Breakdown for the First Game

The two teams playing that day were the Beachville Club and the Zorras. The Zorras hailed from the north townships of Zorra and Oxford. The site selected for the game was the field just behind Enoch Burdick’s shops, (today near Beachville’s Baptist Church.)  The ball was a ball of double twisted woolen yarn, “covered with good, honest calfskin.” It was sewn by Edward McNames, the local shoemaker. And, according to Dr. Ford, “the club was generally made of the best cedar, blocked out with an axe and finished on a shaving horse with a draw knife. A wagon spoke or any nice straight stick would do.”

One of the Original Jerseys from the first game

Replica of Original baseball used

An old catcher’s mask, ball glove and chest protector from the
olden days of baseball

The reason for my visit today was that the museum was celebrating the 170th anniversary of the first game by setting up a field and different age groups of teams would compete.  Winning teams would get a trophy and each participant would get a commemorative patch.

L-A commemorative jersey from the 150th celebration.
Commemorative patch went to all participants.

I did not stay for the game, but I did look around the small, but unique museum. There are a few other baseball artifacts and there are a number of other old farm implements and other things.

An old sled, some old pulleys and the original Beachville jail
are on one of the barns

Old farm tools, gauges and yokes


An old National Truck that was converted to a bus

The museum building, first built in 1851

An old game board

There are lots of old farm and business implements on the site

Embro: I left Beachville shortly before the games had begun and was on my way to Tavistock, Along the way I went through the town of Embro, which is famous in Ontario for their Highland games, which take place in July. The town is yet another small town, but has a rich heritage.  I loved the sign in front of town and the big Tug-of-War.

An old hardware store, the unique Embro sign and a nice church

The town of Embro is also famous for renowned missionary the Reverend George Leslie Mackay, who founded the first Canadian overseas mission in Tamsui, Taiwan in 1872.  He was the first Canadian missionary to venture to China. In 1881, Mackay inspired the people of Oxford County to launch an ecumenical drive throughout Oxford County that raised over $6,000 to help establish Oxford College, now part of Aletheia University in Tamsui. He also
founded many schools and the Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei.  Oxford County and Tamsui, Taiwan have become twinned and have a number of exchange activities as a result of the McKay connection.

Bust of G.L. McKay located in downtown Woodstock

This was done by Sculptor Neil Cox from Toronto

I next headed to Tavistock (East Zorra-Tavistock), which is, coincidentally, the home of the Zorras that played the first baseball game.  Tavistock is a small agricultural community and sits on the northern border of Oxford County and is just a few miles south of the small town of Shakespeare, Ontario in Perth County.  The entire township (including Innerkip, Hickson and some rural areas) has a population of little over 7000. Their largest industry is cheese manufacturing. I arrived in town and saw that the entire town was having a yard sale, similar to how neighborhoods in Lexington do it.  I thought this was a unique idea and most definitely a good exercise in community building. (Mayor McKay told me that this is done in conjunction with the Crokinole tournament to provide the members of the community to do something during this event that draws folks from all over Canada and the United States.)

Vital residents of Tavistock (other than the people)

Cheese is a large industry in this township

I was invited to the 10th Annual World Crokinole Championships by Tavistock Mayor Don McKay, one of the officials at this year’s event.  I was greeted by Mayor McKay and also met Tavistock Gazette Editor Bill Gladding.  Both were gracious enough to introduce me to this game.  The championships are held in this small town as this is where the game was apparently invented in the 1870s.


Tavistock Arena, home of the World Crokinole Championships

Historically, the game of Crokinole got its start near Tavistock. According to the Crokinole
website
, “the earliest known Crokinole board (with legitimate, dated provenance) was made in 1876 (not 1875 as previously reported) in Perth County, Ontario, Canada.  Several other home-made boards of southwestern Ontario origin, and dating from the 1870s, have been discovered within the past 10 years, suggesting confirmation of this locale as the probable ‘cradle’ of Crokinole birth.  Earlier Canadian written sources detail the game from the mid-1860’s.  Several years after that time, a registered American patent suggests 1880 as the time when commercial fabrication began – first in New York, then Pennsylvania.  The games that no doubt contributed to the arrival of Crokinole seem to be the 16th century British games of shovelboard-from which modern-day shuffleboard descends, the 17th century pub game shove ha’penny, and the Victorian parlor game of squails that appeared in England during the second quarter of the 19th century.  In addition, Burmese or East Indian carrom (developed during the 1820s) seems a logical ancestor of Crokinole due alone to the very similar shooting or fillip technique involved.  And while a German game known as ‘knipps-brat’ (various spellings in high and low Germanic dialect exist) may have had similar features, game historians agree the aforementioned British and Asian predecessors seem the most likely links to modern-day
Crokinole.”  The design of the board is credited to craftsman, Eckhardt Wettlaufer ca. 1876.


Oldest known Crokinole board on left (made in 1876) and modern day competition-use board on right.

Crokinole (pronounced croak-i-knoll) is an action board game with elements of shuffleboard and curling reduced to table-top size. Players take turns shooting discs across the circular playing surface, trying to have their discs land in the higher-scoring regions of the board, while also attempting to knock away opposing discs.


Crokinole objectives and a full board used in the tournaments

I am not going into detail about the rules as they can be seen here. But the object of the game is to knock your opponent’s disc into the ditch or into a lower scoring position.  Players flick (or shoot) the discs with their fingers and try to hit the opponent’s discs to gain the most points.  Points are scored as shown in the above diagram.  There is also a variety where the players can use cues.  For the world tournament, the games are timed.



Flicking the disc or using a cue, either way, you want to knock
the opponent’s disc out

The Tavistock and District Recreation Centre was near capacity with a registration
of 548 people playing throughout the day.  There were not only folks from all over Canada, but there were representatives from seven US states (including Colorado and California) and even participants from Scotland and Australia. The joy of this game is that young and old can play together.  This was evident in that there were 6 year old participants and even an 87 year old. For a full detailed article about the tournament this year, please visit Bill
Gladding’s (from the Tavistock Gazette) news article. Read carefully…I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bill mentioned me and my site as well.

Over 500 participants from around the world participated

Brian Cook, from Owen Sound, ON,  was this year’s champion
(as well as last year’s)

(photo courtesy of Bill Gladding, Tavistock Gazette)

A couple final notes about Crokinole.  The interest in this game has increased in recent years.  In 2006 there was a documentary movie made on the game. The world premiere occurred at the Princess Cinema in Waterloo, Ontario in early 2006. The movie follows some of the competitors of the 2004 World Crokinole Championship as they prepare for the event. It also features interviews with Wayne Kelly (Mr. Crokinole) and Crokinole board maker Willard Martin.  Also, Joe Fulop, who was awarded a lifetime achievement award and of whom the Toronto Press coined as the “Wayne Gretsky of Crokinole“, has written a new book called “It’s Only Crokinole: But I Like It”, an 83 page book about the game.  This year’s champion, Brian Cook wrote a section and, ironically, the person for whom I worked for 5 months as a contract Japanese interpreter at Toyota in Woodstock, Derek Kidnie, also wrote a section.  Turns out that Derek is an avid Crokinole enthusiast and I never knew!!  Strange how this world throws fun things at you! By the way, Mr. Fulop’s book is available for $18 (or $27 for a color edition) by calling him at 519-235-1022 or by email at
jfulop@cabletv.on.ca.

 

Crokinole: The Movie  & Joe Fulop (on left)
author of Crokinole book with Barry Raymer

(Fulop/Raymer photo courtesy of Bill Gladding, Tavistock Gazette)

The fascination with Crokinole was fun, but short-lived for me.  I would have loved to stay all day, but I also had a number of places to visit before the day was done.  I left Tavistock and headed north to my next stop, about 3 miles away…

Shakespeare: This small and quaint little town is an antique lovers paradise.  I think there are maybe 750 people that reside in this town.  The town was founded in 1832 by David Bell, and used to be known as Bell’s Corner. The name changed from Bell’s Corner to Shakespeare in 1852 when Alexander Mitchell suggested naming the town after his
favorite playwright, William Shakespeare.

The old sign to Shakespeare & the Shakespeare Antique Centre

I really had no idea what I would run into in Shakespeare, but one shop (or
shoppe in Canadian) caught my eye….

Anything Funky with “stuff” or “junk” always catches my eye

What really caught my eye was the flamingos (being Sumoflam and
all….)

I met owner Terianne Miller, who work with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for many years, recently opened this unique shop. She actually has aspirations of “flamingoizing” the shop.  Funky Junk was really a fresh shop and had some really reasonable prices.  In fact, I got one of the wire flamingoes as seen above.  The green ball actually has a
solar panel/light in it and lights up.  I got one for Julianne…for only $15!!



Bears Am I in Shakespeare, Ontario

A couple of doors down from Funky Junk was the Bears Am I shop. This shop is owned and operated by Bear artist and collector Sue Gueguen. Sue provides one of those fascination stories to me.  From the outside the shop appears to be one focused on selling teddy bears, etc.  But, the REAL story is that she makes many of the bears herself. She has been making them since she was 7 years old.  In 1989 she started doing her craft — making bears from real fur from old coats, etc.  She calls her hand-crafted (I prefer that over hand-made because these really are a craft!) bears “Powder Puff Teddies.”  Her bears are fully jointed, have German glass eyes and the noses are embroidered.   She spends hours on the bears.

Sue Gueguen hard at work hand-crafting one of her Powder Puff Teddies

The key to her work is that families bring in their old fur coats, or other fur items that they want to remember as an heirloom item. Sue has had folks bring her a number of types of furs.  She has even made a bear out of skunk fur!!

Sue shows a kangaroo skin that will soon become a bear. 

The bear on the right was made from raccoon fur.

Sue had a number of interesting stories and we had an enjoyable discussion. She really got a kick out of my story about the Trailer Park Troubadours song Aunt Beula’s Roadkill Overcoat.  For her benefit and yours, here is a picture of the overcoat from the 2008
Polyesterfest Cruise that the Troubs’ sponsor.

Aunt Beula’s Roadkill Overcoat

(photo courtesy of Jim Aspinwall)

Stratford: Not too far west of Shakespeare is the lovely town of Stratford. I cannot really do the town justice on this page, but will at least preview it. Since I will now be in Ontario until October, I plan on making a longer trip to Stratford for more exploration.  The town sits along the Avon River and there are some beautiful sites along the river in town. There are also fascinating buildings and lovely parks, including the famous Shakepearean Gardens, which I did not visit on this trip.



Some Stratford Scenes

Along the river there are a number of small boutiques and lots of small cafes.  But the most impressive part to me and what I really wanted to see was the swans on the Avon River.  The serenity of river along with the gracefulness of the swans provided me a peaceful feeling.

Swans on the Avon River

And I got the double pleasure of catching a young girl and her family interacting with the swans.  In fact, these swans are very tame and not afraid of individuals.  While I was taking photos one of the swans actually pecked at my feet, my pockets and hands.

I love the photo in the middle as they stare each other down.
It was a lucky shot!

Her mother and father enjoyed them as well


The ducks also wanted their day in the spotlight

St. Marys: The final leg of today’s trip took me into St. Marys, which in a sense was full circle as it is home to Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame.   I found my way to the museum but had no time to go in.  I did get a couple of shots of the outside though.  Some of those inducted in the past include former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins; the first black ball player in the majors, Jackie Robinson; Andre Dawson from the Montreal Expos; former L.A. Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda; and James “Tip” O’Neill, who became the namesake for the former U.S. Speaker of the House.


The Canadian
Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario

More fascinating tome were the stone water tower, the waterfalls, and the lovely muraled youth center.  The stone water tower was built in 1899 and currently displays the slogan “St. Marys: The Town Worth Living In”.


St.Marys water tower and looking downtown


Waterfalls with scenic backdrop. Another angle of the church on the hill.



The St. Marys Youth Centre is totally surrounded by murals.  The art work is fabulous!!


I have tried to find more info on the artists, but have had no success


After my visit here, I headed back to Woodstock, took a shower and headed straight to Bright to attend the Walters Family Dinner Theatre Show.  You can see more on my page
about that visit here.

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