Ontario: The Early Years

Ontario: The Early Years

Perhaps it was appropriate that in Ontario, the first game of soccer, as we know it today, was played in Toronto between teams representing the Carlton Cricket Club and the Toronto Lacrosse Club.  The game was played in 1876, when cricket and lacrosse, along with baseball, dominated Canadian team sports in the summer.  It was played on Parliament Street in Toronto, under the laws formed in 1863 in London, England.  But the transition from the hybrid forms of football played in Ontario prior to that day and the game we play today was not immediate, and many years passed before Ontario soccer joined the mainstream.

One year after the game played in the Queen City, the first national soccer association, outside of the British Isles, was formed.  It was known as the Dominion Football Association.  Unfortunately, it was short-lived and had faded away by the time 1881 rolled around.  But before then, something far more significant had happened.  The Western Football Association was formed in Berlin (now Kitchener) in 1880.  “Football”?   Yes, the official name for soccer is Association Football, and in the early years, and at least up until World War Two, it was known as that in Canada.  Soccer is a colloquialism formed from the second syllable of the word “association.”

The Western Football Association was founded by the great David Forsyth, one of the most influential men in the history of Canadian sport.  It operated in all the towns and villages west of Berlin, places you rarely, if ever, hear of today in connection with soccer.  But the WFA thrived in the summer months, and was to a certain extent based in schools.  One of these was Forsyth’s Berlin High School.  Another was just south of Berlin in Galt, where “Tassie’s School,” Galt Collegiate Institute, took to the game like a duck to water.  West of Berlin, it was the same with Seaforth Collegiate Institute, and similarly in Clinton and further south in Woodstock and Ingersoll.  But small towns also embraced the game, places like Listowel, Brussels, Milverton, Mildmay, Ayr, Plattsville, Aylmer and Atwood.

Aylmer staged the first international soccer game played in Canada in 1888, with Canada playing the United States, and later that same year, a team made up of players from the WFA toured Britain with great success.  However, before that time, the WFA had established a relationship with the American Football Association south of the border, and in 1885 and 1886, a team representing the WFA travelled to New Jersey to play.  That in turn brought teams from the U.S. to Ontario, and those teams played in Berlin, Galt, Toronto and Seaforth.  Later, teams from as far west as Detroit joined the WFA, and the WFA clubs travelled to Chicago and St. Louis.

While the WFA functioned west of Toronto, the Central Football Association operated in Toronto and just east of the city, while the Eastern Football Association was centred in Cornwall.  All of this activity eventually led to the founding of the Ontario Association Football League in 1901, with David Forsyth as the guiding light.  While it was known as the Association Football League (as were most soccer/football organizations formed in Canada in those days), the term “league” had nothing to do with a league as we think of it today.  League in this sense referred to groups working together towards a common goal.

The founding of the OAFL saw the emergence of Galt Football Club as one of Canada’s first great teams.  Known in some quarters as “The Galt Porridge Eating Invincibles,” Galt (today a part of the City of Cambridge), dominated the Ontario Cup in 1901, 1902 and 1903, and then won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1904 Olympic Games held in St. Louis, Missouri.

But one year later, when the Pilgrims, the first English touring team, came to Canada, something rarely mentioned before came to light.  Canadian Rules.  It seems that over time, teams in Ontario had begun playing to a somewhat different set of rules to those in use elsewhere, at least in Britain.  These rules (or to give them their correct name – Laws), permitted more violent play than the laws in use in Britain —  laws that allowed for hacking at players’ legs and tripping, while it was quite alright to jump on the back of the player with the ball.  The Pilgrims objected.  Controversy ensued, but the games seem to have been played at least partly under Canadian Rules.  While the Pilgrims were beaten by the Berlin Rangers 2–1, it was the game against Galt that really mattered, a game billed as being “For the Championship of the World.”  Played at beautiful Dickson Park on the banks of the Grand River, the game attracted over 3000 spectators and ended in a 3–3 tie.

Four years later saw the beginning of the end for Canadian Rules as a Scot named Tom Robertson fought for and formed the Toronto and District League playing British rules in opposition to the Toronto League, playing Canadian rules.  Eventually Robertson prevailed, and the two organizations joined forces.  Robertson then went on to become the secretary of the Toronto and District League and then of the Ontario Football Association and finally to help found the Dominion of Canada Football Association, today’s Canadian Soccer Association, in 1912.  But soon after that, the clouds of war cast a dark shadow over all of Canada, and led to the deaths of almost an entire generation of young Canadians, many of them soccer players.

When it was over, immigrants poured into the country, and the game, once played largely by Canadians, was by the mid-1920s, dominated by former British players.

Over time, administrators were deeply disturbed by the lack of native-born players playing the game, but never seemed able to reverse the trend, until many years later.

In 1926, the first serious attempt to form a professional league came about, this in the midst of an internecine conflict between organized soccer and its clubs.  At the bottom of it all was dissention between the clubs and the Toronto and District Soccer Association, which led to the formation of an organization known as the Canadian Football Association in opposition to organized soccer and running its own competitions.

The dispute lasted for two years, and was settled before the National League was formed in 1926.  The National League, later the National Soccer League, stayed around until the 1990s.  In its early years, it was dominated by teams such as Toronto Ulster United, Toronto Scottish, Montreal Carsteel, Montreal CNR, Hamilton City and Hamilton Thistles.  However, following World War Two, this league reflected the huge influx of immigrants from all over Europe.  By the time the 1930s rolled around, the world was in the midst of a disastrous economic depression that hit soccer hard.  Players found themselves out of a job as factories closed down, while the factories that closed no longer ran teams.  Players and fans drifted across the country and back to Europe trying to find work to support their families, and some found work in the mines of Northern Ontario.  As a result, the National League, which originally operated with a Western Section based in Toronto and an Eastern Section based in Montreal, soon had a Northern Section based in Sudbury.  Teams such as Timmins Dome Mines, Falconbridge Falcons and Frood Mines rose to challenge Ulster and Scottish with great success.  Timmins Dome Mines reached the national final in 1938 only to lose in a marathon five-game series.

The Ontario Football Association and Ontario soccer associations carried on as best they could through the Dirty 30s, but the Dominion of Canada Football Association, in financial trouble, reverted to having mail votes instead of an annual meeting, and the DCFA was, to all intents and purposes, run by Sam Davidson out of his home in Winnipeg.  The troubled times were brought to an end by an even greater disaster, World War Two, which ended an era, and changed Canadian soccer forever.  During the years of World War Two, the DCFA and the OFA closed down, and the Ontario Football Association was not to be back in business again for ten years, by which time a generation had passed, and soccer had virtually to begin again from square one.

Edward Hagarty Parry – Born: Toronto, Ontario, April 24, 1855.  Died: West Bridgford, Nottingham, England, July 19, 1931.  The first Canadian-born player ever to play in an international game.  However, he played, not for Canada, but for England.  The younger son of Edward St. John Parry and Lucy Susanna Hagarty, he was baptized in St. James Cathedral, Toronto, on June 10, 1855.  His grandfather, Thomas Parry, a former missionary, once served as the Bishop of Antigua.  He appears to have been taken to England by his parents at a young age.  He went to school there, and later studied at Charterhouse School and Oxford University, where he captained the soccer team in 1877, the year that Oxford played in the F.A. Cup Final.  Parry thus became the first Canadian-born player to play in an F.A. Cup Final.  Oxford were beaten 2–1 in extra time by the Wanderers.  He was back in the F.A. Cup Final again in 1881, leading the Old Carthusians — former students of Charterhouse — to victory over the Old Etonians, and thus became the first Canadian to win an F.A. Cup winner’s medal and the first player born outside of the United Kingdom to captain an F.A. Cup winning team. Before that, Parry became the first Canadian-born player to win an international cap when he played for England against Wales in 1879.  The only other Canadian to play for England is Owen Hargreaves, who is currently a member of the England squad.  Parry played for England again in 1882 against Wales and Scotland.  According to accounts, Parry, who played inside left, was a fast dribbler with a fair shot, who did not relish charging.  Parry later went on to become the principal at Stoke House School at Slough in Buckinghamshire, a position he held from 1882 until his retirement in 1918.  He was married to Amelie Marthe.

David Forsyth – Born: Perthshire, Scotland, December 15, 1852.  Died: Beamsville, Ontario, September 13/14, 1936.  A founding member of the Dominion Football Association in 1877, the Western Football Association in 1880 and the Ontario Football Association in 1901.  David was secretary and president of the Western Football Association and secretary of the Ontario Football Association and a life member of the Dominion of Canada Football Association.  He played for the Canadian team that defeated the United States in East Newark, New Jersey, in 1885, and was on the losing side in the game played between the two teams in 1886.  He organized the Canadian tour to Britain in 1888, and was the secretary during the trip as well as playing the occasional game.  Forsyth came to Canada with his parents when he was only one year of age, and received his primary education in Lynden, Ontario.  In 1885, he entered Dundas High School, and, after his parents moved to Galt in 1867, the famous “Tassie’s School,” Galt Collegiate Institute.  There he matriculated in 1869 with scholarship standing in mathematics, and in 1875, graduated from the University of Toronto with a silver medal in mathematics.  In 1876, he became master of mathematics and science at the old Berlin High School, and it was here that his involvement in soccer really began.  During the following years, Berlin High School became a power in Canadian soccer, producing many fine players who formed the nucleus of the Canadian teams of 1885, 1886 and 1888.  Later this team became known as Berlin Rangers.

Thomas “Tom” Robertson – Born: Scotland in 1881, and came to Canada in 1901.  The first secretary of the Dominion of Canada Football Association, today’s Canadian Soccer Association.  Robertson received an injury as a player that kept him in hospital for 53 weeks, necessitating many operations and finally the loss of a limb.  While in hospital, Tom made up his mind that if he got out alive he would do his best to clean up the game and eliminate the brutality which was prevalent at that time.  He joined the Toronto Scottish executive and asked the Toronto Football Association, the governing body of soccer in Toronto at the time, an organization that played to Canadian Rules, to encourage British fair play in soccer.  This was denied him, and as a result, he led the movement to establish the Toronto and District Football Association in 1908 for teams to play to the rules in use in Britain.  In 1910, he was elected secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Soccer Association, and held the job through 1911 and 1912.  In 1912, although laughed at for his pains, he took the steps, along with Fred Barter, President of the Province of Quebec Football Association, which resulted in the formation of the Dominion of Canada Football Association, and became its first secretary.  He was made a life member of the DCFA in 1925.  In 1933, he was a member of the DCFA commission that investigated the affairs of the Ontario Football Association.  He was a draftsman by profession, and worked for the Dominion Bridge Company.  He lived variously on Wyatt Avenue, St. Clarens Avenue and Scollard Street in downtown Toronto, and presented the Robertson Cup to the Toronto and District Soccer Association, to be competed for annually to raise money for injured players.

George Graham – Born: Portrush, Northern Ireland, in 1902.  Died: Toronto, Ontario, August 7, 1966.  Outstanding centre forward with the great Toronto Ulster United teams of the 1920s and 1930s, who won Ontario Cup medals with Ulster in 1929, 1937 and 1938.  He also played for the Ontario All-Star team against the English Football Association in 1926, the Scottish Football Association in 1927, the Welsh Football Association in 1929 and the English Football Association again in 1931 and for Eastern Canada against the Scottish Football Association in 1935.  He also played for Canada against the United States at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in 1926.  Graham was brought to Canada by his parents in 1914, and grew up in Edmonton, where he played for the South Side team along with his great friend Dave Turner.  He played for the Edmonton All-Stars against the touring Corinthians in 1924 along with Turner and his brother Jim.  Afterwards, he moved to the west coast with Turner, but before that, played one game in Calgary for the C.P.R. team helping them win the Black Cup.  On the west coast, he played for Vancouver St. Andrews, then crossed to Georgia Strait to play in Cumberland on Vancouver Island, but it wasn’t long before he was lured to the American Professional Soccer League, where he played for Philadelphia, Fall River Marksmen and Brooklyn Wanderers.  With Philadelphia later in the 1925–26 season, he scored eight goals in 10 games, then 17 goals in 30 games for Fall River in the 1927–28 season, before being traded to Brooklyn.  After that, he remained in Canada with Ulster United, and worked for the T. Eaton Company for 38 years.

Andy Stevens – Born: Durham, England.  Died: Toronto, Ontario.  Stevens grew up in Toronto and became one of Canada’s most outstanding players of the 1920s and 1930s.  He began his career with Parkside Rangers in Toronto in 1917, then moved to Toronto Scottish, Toronto Lancashire and Davenport Albion.  He also spent time playing in Chicago for the Pullman club during the 1920–21 season and in Detroit in 1923.  Eventually, he moved to the Atlantic seaboard, joining the Boston Wonder Workers of the professional American Soccer League, and became one of that league’s all-time top goalscorers with 150 goals.  At the end of the 1924–25 season, Stevens moved from Boston to New Bedford Whalers, and was the league’s top goalscorer in 1925–26 with 44 goals in 39 games.  When his ASL career ended, he returned to Toronto, and led Toronto Scottish to the national championship in 1932 and 1933 and the North American championship in 1933 against Stix, Baer and Fuller of St. Louis.  He served in the Canadian Army during World War Two, and when the war was over, coached Toronto East End Canadians in 1947 in the National Soccer League.  During the 1920s and 1930s, the great rivalry in Toronto was between Scottish, led by Stevens and Ulster, led by George Graham.

Arthur Jennings Halliwell –  Born: Manchester, England.  Died: Toronto, Ontario, May 18, 1964.  Art Halliwell was brought to Canada by his parents at the age of six and was attending Perth Avenue Public School in 1907.  A superb goalkeeper with a number of Toronto teams over the years, he played brilliantly for the Canadian team against the Scottish Football Association in Montreal in 1921.  That display brought him a number of offers to join British clubs.  Among those are said to have been Third Lanark and Sunderland, but he eventually settled for Dunfermline Athletic.  He sailed for Britain in late September of 1921, and was given a big send-off by everyone, including the children from his old school, who presented him with an umbrella.  However, he played only the one season in Scotland before returning home.  Halliwell played for Canada against the United States twice in 1925, and for the Ontario All-Stars against British touring teams in 1921, 1926, 1927 and 1929.  He also coached the University of Toronto soccer team starting in 1925, and his team won the college championship in 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1935.  Later in life, he owned 51 racehorses and became a millionaire.

A.E. “Tiny” Thombs – Born: Henley, England, in 1882.  Died: Hamilton, Ontario, September 30, 1957.  Tiny, as he was always known, was a star in Hamilton soccer during the early years of the century.  While still in England, it is said that he received flattering offers to play for some of the top professional clubs, but chose to come to Canada, where he played most of his career with the great Westinghouse team.  For many years, he was considered to be without equal, and played for the Hamilton All-Stars against the Corinthians in 1906 and 1911, and for Hamilton and Ontario against the touring Scottish Football Association team in 1921.  Tiny was a member of the Westinghouse team that won the Connaught Cup, the national championship, in 1920 and the Ontario Cup in 1911, 1912 and 1920.  However, his greatest claim to fame is that he was a member of the Canadian team that held the Scottish Football Association touring team to one goal in Montreal in 1921.

Robert Logan “Whitey” McDonald – Born: Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, August 11, 1902.  Died: Millport, Scotland, June 7, 1956.  McDonald was brought to Hamilton by his parents at the age of two, and was raised in the Steel City.  He progressed through schoolboy and junior soccer ranks, graduating to the senior game with Hamilton Thistle.  One of twelve children, he played for the Thistle in the Spectator Cup finals of 1921 and 1922 and later briefly for Toronto Ulster United.  In the summer of 1924, after turning down an offer to join the English club Stockport County, he signed for Bethlehem Steel in the professional American Soccer League, where he played for four seasons, helping the team win the U.S. national championship in 1926, and the championship of the American Soccer League in 1927.  When Glasgow Rangers toured North America in 1928, they spotted Whitey, and that fall he was on his way to Ibrox Park in Glasgow to play for the famous Rangers.  Between 1928 and 1939, McDonald won four Scottish championship medals and four Scottish Football Association Cup winner’s medals.  He also played for his native Northern Ireland against Scotland in 1930 and England in 1932.  He toured Canada and the United States with Rangers in 1930, and captained his new team in the game against Hamilton, who in turn were captained by his brother “Red.”  He toured Canada and the United States a second time in 1935 with a Scottish Football Association team.  A wing half during his days with Hamilton Thistle and Bethlehem Steel, Rangers converted him into a left back with outstanding success.  Later in life, he became a physiotherapist and served on hospital ships in World War Two.  At the time of his death, he was preparing to start the next season at Ibrox as head trainer.

James “Jimmy” Tennant –  Born: Scotland.  Died: Hamilton, Ontario, May 16, 1960.  Jimmy grew up in Hamilton graduating through the Thistles system, which produced many fine players, and helped the team win the Spectator Cup in 1930 and 1931.  In 1932, he moved north to Timmins, where he played for Dome Mines.  Soon after, he left for Britain, where he played briefly in Wales for Cardiff City, two games, before heading north to Scotland for a spell with Kilwinning Rangers, and then signing with the famous Perth club St. Johnstone.  A winger, Jimmy played for the Saints from 1933 to 1940, appearing in 187 games and scoring 34 goals.  On January 25, 1936, he scored a hat-trick against Raith Rovers in a Scottish Cup game.  He was at one time selected as a reserve for the Scottish League team.