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Mazhar Choudhry (ovcc)

Cricket Ottawa – The Early Years (1840-1960)


In 1840, some thirteen years after the first recorded mention of cricket in Canada , the Carleton Cricket Club was established in Ottawa , then named Bytown. This club was dissolved in 1845 and nothing further was heard of the game until 1849 when the Bytown Cricket Club was established. Among the players at that period were Mr. G.P. Baker, postmaster and often referred to as “the father of Ottawa cricket “, and Mr. F. Clemow, later a Senator. Matches were played with Aylmer , Prescott , Belleville , Kingston and Cornwall . The military in Bytown also provided good opposition. Games in Bytown were played on a site of what is now known as Cartier Square . In 1851 Bytown played Belleville in Kingston and, according to the “Kingston Whig “, the Bytown players were “whalers, all able-bodied men, and will smash their opponents all to smithereens”; however, in spite of this emphatic opinion, Bytown lost by an innings. Six years later the Bytown Cricket Club is known to have played five matches in the season. In 1858, when Bytown became the capital of Canada , and its name was changed to Ottawa , the Bytown Cricket Club became the Ottawa Cricket Club (OCC). That same year the first match was played against Montreal , a fixture that has now lasted for one hundred years.


In 1865 Captain Pemberton of the 60 th Royal Rifles laid down the first cricket pitch at Rideau Hall. Two years later Lord Monck, the Governor-General, set aside ten acres on the west side of Rideau Hall for cricket, thus assuring the permanency of the game in Ottawa . At that period the wicket was pitched from east to west. After two quiet years the game was revived in 1870 and about this time matches were played with Almonte, Arnprior, Peterborough , Carleton Place , Kingston , Belleville , Cobourg and Hamilton . For those interested in the ebb and flow over the years of cricket in Ontario it is to be noted that it is only in the larger centres, such as Peterborough, Kingston and Hamilton, that the game has survived, and then often with moribund periods. About this time, too, the first of many fixtures was played with Toronto . In 1872 an English touring side for the first time visited Ottawa , previous trans-Atlantic ventures in 1859 and 1868 having bypassed the city. The 1872 party was a very strong one, including such redoubtable players as Dr. W.G. Grace and Mr. A.N. Hornby. They played twenty-two from Ottawa and District. Only two of the local players reached double figures and the visitors gained a resounding victory by an innings and 109 runs. It was on this occasion that Dr. W.G. Grace made 73 before being bowled by Mr. J. Boothroyd, an underarm bowler from Almonte. The successful bowler was presented with Dr. W.G. Grace’s bat, which recently passed into the possession of the Ottawa Valley Cricket Council. In 1875 Ottawa played Port Hope and St. Catharines , and in 1879 Ottawa acted as host for the Canada vs. United States match, an encounter which, with interruptions, was an annual fixture from 1844 until 1921. In 1880 Mr. A. Browning of Montreal made 204 at Rideau Hall, then the highest individual score in Canadian cricket, and still the only double century made in Ottawa . It was about this time that two or three other clubs were founded in Ottawa but their existence was brief and undistinguished In 1882 Winnipeg visited Ottawa . Lord Lorne, who was Governor-General from 1878 until 1883, took a keen interest in the game and occasionally played himself.


If there was a golden era in Ottawa cricket it was surely during the period from 1883 until 1887 when Lord Landsdowne was Governor-General. His Excellency was himself no mean player and did much to popularise the game. In addition, this was before the time when tennis and golf provided serious counter-attractions and, what is perhaps equally significant, before the decline of interest in cricket in the United States had definitely set in. In 1884 the Ottawa Cricket Club played Government House and during this match Sir John A. Macdonald, then Prime Minister, visited the ground and was received by His Excellency in a marquee erected for the vice-regal party. In 1885 a team consisting of members of Parliament and Senators defeated Government House by an innings and 10 runs, His Excellency being his side’s top scorer in their second innings with 21 runs. In that same year Ottawa had a visit from the famous Longwood Cricket Club in Boston . In 1886 came the first team from the West Indies and Ottawa defeated a strong side from Halifax . Another highlight of the year 1886 was Ottawa ‘s first tour outside the country. Three matches were played in Boston . It was during one of these matches, played on Boston Common, that a remarkable incident occurred. Mr. L. Coste, an Ottawa player, made a tremendous hit, so powerful indeed that 7 were run, three fielders being required to return the ball. In 1887 Mr. W.C. Little, an Ottawa player, was with a Canadian side which toured England .


In 1888 the Gentlemen of Ireland toured Canada and beat fifteen of Ottawa by an innings. In the same year occurred the first visit from Hamilton and the year following Galt, Guelph and St. Paul’s School, Concord, all came to Ottawa, and in 1890, Trinity University of Toronto. In 1891 Lord Hawke’s XI defeated Eastern Canada in Ottawa by an innings and it is interesting to note that this match took place as late in the season as the third week in October. In the same year Alexandria , McGill University of Montreal and R.M.C. of Kingston visited the capital. In 1893 a climactic and almost disastrous event occurred, the Pavilion being burnt down. Fortunately, and thanks largely to the Governor-General, Lord Stanley, and the Department of Public Works, a new structure was erected which has now lasted for some sixty-five years. About this time the Ottawa team was very strong and in 1894 they beat London , Ontario , in Toronto , and in that year did not lose a match.


Although it was supported by several well-known Ottawa residents there was no expansion of cricket in the twenty years preceding the outbreak of the First World War. It was at best a period of consolidation. In 1901 Ottawa again was the scene of another Canada vs. United States match. In 1905 Quebec (including Ottawa ) defeated Ontario at Rideau Hall and that same year the Ottawa Cricket Club drew up its first constitution. In 1907 the M.C.C. visited Canada and a close match against Eastern Canada at Rideau Hall resulted in a draw. In 1910 a fortnight was spent touring in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York , only two matches being lost and Johnston, an Ottawa player, making 153 against the Belmont Cricket Club in Philadelphia . American teams were frequent visitors to Ottawa during this period, and among their players was Mr. J. B. King of Philadelphia , whom many consider to have been the finest swerve bowler the world has ever seen. The strength of Philadelphia cricket at that time can readily be understood when it is recalled that, in 1913, a Germantown Cricket Club XII in Philadelphia beat an Australian touring side which included such players as Bardsley, Collins, Mailey and McCartney. This Australian side also visited Ottawa in its itinerary.


In the twenties a modest expansion of Ottawa cricket took place. Three new clubs, Defence (formerly Militia), Christ Church Cathedral and New Edinburgh were formed and they still operate at the present time. For some years a club known as the Wanderers was playing in Ottawa , having taken over from R.C.M.P. In order to organize the cricket, which was now on League scale, the Ottawa Valley Cricket Council had been formed in 1920, the original constitution of which was drawn up in I923. The foundation clubs were Ottawa , Defence, R.C.M.P. and Almonte. In 1922 competition among the clubs for an annual Challenge Cup was instituted which, as of 1960 inclusive, has been won twelve times by Christ Church Cathedral, nine times by New Edinburgh, six times by Ottawa, four times by Defence, twice by Kingston and once each by Almonte and Ashbury College. The Almonte Cricket Club now no longer exists and Ashbury College no longer competes. In one year Defence and New Edinburgh tied and in three years no award was made. It was during this period that Council secured the use of a second ground at Ashbury College , Rockcliffe Park . In 1927, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, the City of Ottawa presented the Confederation Cup for annual competition between Ottawa and Montreal . In 1928 the Lord Atholstan Trophy inter-provincial match was played in Ottawa . In 1932 a most distinguished group of Australian cricketers played at Rideau Hall, under the captaincy of Richardson , and including Bradman, Fleetwood-Smith, Kippax, Mailey and McCabe. In 1939 there was a visit of schoolboys and girls from England which was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Other visitors to Ottawa in the period between the two World Wars were the Free Foresters from England and Ridley College , Upper Canada College and St. Andrew’s College. Haverford College of Philadelphia also came, a school which first played cricket in 1836. An outstanding player of the inter-war period was Mr. H. Edwards, who donated a trophy for contribution to cricket. A Governor-General of this period who took a keen interest in Ottawa cricket was Lord Willingdon who had been four years in the Cambridge University XI.


The Second World War posed serious problems for the administrators of the game in Ottawa , not the least of which was the loss of so many players. The situation was, however, saved by the influx of Commonwealth players who were serving in the armed forces. Much was owed, too, to the encouragement of Lord Athlone, the Governor-General, who donated trophies for annual competition in batting, bowling and fielding.


The post-war era has seen many changes and improvements. In 1947 a Constitution Committee undertook a radical revision of the League’s Constitution and Bye-Laws which, except for revision and amendment in 1941, had remained unchanged since 1923. The main effect of the labours of this Committee was to transfer responsibility for detailed work from the Executive to individual committees, now eleven in number, which report to Council. The Constitution and Bye-Laws have been kept under scrutiny and since 1947 amendments have been sustained at no less than seven annual general meetings. Also in 1947 the inter-provincial match was again played in Ottawa . In 1948 the annual Fixtures booklet was instituted, this providing, amongst other things, a record of Ottawa cricket and some much needed publicity. Sunday cricket became a regular feature and two day matches more common. Games were played with newly established or resuscitated clubs in Brockville , Deep River , Montreal , Oakville and Toronto as well as with Kingston , which joined the League in 1959. During the past ten years noteworthy visits and matches at Rideau Hall have become numerous, and they include the Pakistan Test Team in 1958, the M.C.C. in 1951 and 1959, and the Australian Old Collegians’ in 1960. In 1957 the inter-provincial match was again staged in Ottawa and in that same y Council played the Independent Schools, for which six well-known private schools in Ontario each provided two players. Teams from Bermuda , British Columbia and Philadelphia have also visited. Both Lord Alexander, who became President of the M.C.C., and Mr. Massey took a keen interest in the game, and Mr. Massey generously set aside further space for a second ground at Rideau Hall. Apart from ground and Pavilion maintenance and improvements, a real and not unsuccessful attempt has been made to raise the standard of umpiring and scoring. In umpiring there is affiliation with the Association of Cricket Umpires and two umpires have obtained full membership in the Association by examination.

Only in the vital field of junior cricket has progress in the post-war period been meagre, if not non-existent. This is a serious matter for the future of the game as it points out the inescapable fact that its continuation, even at the present modest level, is dependent upon a steady inflow of Commonwealth immigrants and transmigrants from overseas and temporary Ottawa residents. Ashbury College is now, for all practical purposes, the only local source of junior players. The story of Ottawa cricket would not be complete without mention of this College which has prominently featured the game for half a century or longer, and which has been a mainstay of local cricket by making its ground available to Ottawa players, providing accommodation for visiting teams and other services too numerous to mention. At one time there were regular fixtures with several other schoolboy teams but now their sole rivals appear to be Bishops College School in Lennoxville , Quebec . Although from time to time the College produces unusually good players, they are handicapped by a very short season and lack of sufficient suitable opposition and coaching facilities.


Recently one player, Dr. A.B. Lang, formerly of Sydney , New South Wales , has established a number of records, and this in spite of a war injury. Twice in a season he has exceeded 1,000 runs. His 202, out of an opening stand of 277 at St. Catherines in I957 is the only recorded double century by an Ottawa player and the opening stand is probably also a Canadian record. Two years previously he had made 192 in only 145 minutes against a strong Toronto Cricket Club side on the Rideau Hall ground, which is another record for an Ottawa player. In 1954 he scored a century in each innings of a representative match and is believed to be the only contemporary Canadian player to have achieved this feat. Mention should also be made of Mr. E.F. Hitchman who has been active in Canadian cricket for seventy years, the last forty of them in Ottawa . He founded the Christ Church Cathedral Cricket Club, and was commissioned by the Canadian Cricket Association to prepare the Memorial Album in tribute to the Canadian cricketers who gave their lives in two World Wars. He presented this to the M.C.C. at Lords in 1952. Mr. Hitchman is now covered with cricket honours, being an honorary officer of both the Canadian Cricket Association and the Ontario Cricket Association and he also holds the unique distinction of being both an Honorary Vice-President and an Honorary Life Member of the 0ttawa Valley Cricket Council. In the 1960 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack he is fittingly described as the “ grand old man “ of Canadian cricket.

The original cricket pavilion at Rideau Hall was erected in the 1870?s adjacent to the playing field laid out when the site became the vice-regal estate. The cricket field itself was planned and laid out by Captain Pemberton of the 60th Royal Rifles. In August of 1872, the Ottawa Cricket Club sought permission from Lord Lisgar, who was the current Governor-General of Canada, to construct a ?wooden stand? on the grounds of Rideau Hall. A letter from the Department of Public Works archives is evidence to suggest that permission to construct a pavilion was granted prior to June 1875. The appearance of this early pavilion is recorded in a photograph of 1890, which shows a one-storey structure supporting an open set of bleachers above it.

In 1891, the pavilion was partially destroyed by a fire and the Club sought permission to rebuild. A letter, dated March 15, 1892, from Government House to the Minister of Public Works suggests a location for the construction of a new pavilion. In a letter, dated March 17, 1892, the design of the new pavilion was approved by Government House.

The next known visual record of the cricket pavilion is from November 1902, when the present pavilion is recorded.

Decorative millwork on the present pavilion incorporate the initials of the Ottawa Cricket Club. Newspaper articles regarding Rideau Hall indicate that by 1909 the club was known as the Rideau Hall Cricket Club.

The cricket pavilion has always and continues to be owned by the Rideau Hall Cricket Association, although it sits on the grounds of Rideau Hall. The Association is made up of four member cricket clubs: Ottawa Cricket Club, Defense Cricket Club, Christ Church Cricket Club and the New Edinburgh Criket Club. The Rideau Hall Cricket Association is a non-incorporated, not-for-profit organization. The building continues to serve as a cricket pavilion.

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