Pro Pelle Cutem. Skin for skin. Kiiiiind of a creepy 350 year-old motto. The Hudson Bay Company dropped it in 2002 and just started using it again in 2013. It seems to be a pun-ish reference to Satan's line in the Book of Job: "Skin for skin; yea, all that a man hath, he will give for his life." There are various interpretations of the motto, but lots of people say that it was a morbid suggestion that the Company was willing to risk the lives of their fur traders (and to kill others!) in order to get their hands on beaver pelts. Much of early Canadian history, of course, was driven by the European appetite for beaver hats. The fashion nearly drove our national animal to extinction.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
He had the same dream every winter. He was standing on King Street, alone on a night with fresh snow, a clear sky and a full moon. Icicles hung like crystals. Every dark corner was made bright. Even then, he could only barely see them: faint lupine shadows slipping up out of the frosted forests of the Don Valley and into the sparkling heart of the city. They moved quickly and with purpose, seemed to know all of the houses and schools where the children slept. They slunk beneath the cracks of closed doors and through barely-open windows, crept up stairs and into bedrooms. Toothy muzzles were lifted up onto pillowcases, and steamy, wet breath warmed young, sleeping faces.Those wolves whispered secrets into those innocent ears. On that night, the boys and girls of Toronto dreamed of the frozen White North. Of the wintry wilds of Canada. Of moose and of elk and of ice.
You can read more about his life and his clash with U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt on Spacing here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.
Friday, October 16, 2015
The very first legendary home run ever hit in Toronto was hit in 1887. More than a century before Joe Carter's famous World Series walk-off at the SkyDome, Cannonball Crane hit a homer into the sky above the Don Valley to end a game at Sunlight Park. It was made all the more impressive by the fact that it came during extra innings in the second game of a double-header — and that Crane had pitched all 20 innings for the Toronto Baseball Club on that Saturday afternoon. Those two victories sparked a 16-game winning streak that brought Toronto our very first baseball championship.
On Wednesday night, one of the greatest sluggers of our time came to the plate at the SkyDome during one of the strangest innings in baseball history — and more than 10% of the entire population of Canada was watching.
|Ned "Cannonball" Crane|
Torontonians, too, feel like we have something to prove. We always have. It's our infamous colonial mentality, stretching all the way back to our early days as a muddy outpost on a distant, snowy frontier. Our city was founded as a capital — but a tiny capital, thousands of kilometers away from the heart of the British Empire, dwarfed by the American juggernaut to the south. We've always been secretly ambitious (our founder, John Graves Simcoe, wanted Toronto to become a city so awesome that Americans would beg to be let back into the British fold), but we worry that if we're honest with ourselves we'll find that we're largely irrelevant. That inferiority complex was already in place long before Cannonball Crane stepped to the plate on that September afternoon in 1887. It was, I suspect, part of what drove the crowd's frenzied reaction when he crushed his game-winning home run.
As the fans lifted Crane onto their shoulders and paraded him out of Sunlight Park and onto Queen Street, the team's owner scrawled a triumphant message on the scoreboard: "CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."
The crowd went nuts. In Toronto, we're always looking for signs that we really do deserve our place as one of the most important cities on the continent — even if those signs come from something as random and trivial as the outcome of a baseball game. On that day, it must have felt like our city was finally coming into its own: a booming metropolis in a brand new nation... and now a famous baseball star to call our own and a fresh championship pennant to hang in our brand new stadium.
|Joe Carter's walk-off|
In Toronto, we're used to getting our hopes up only to have them immediately dashed in spectacular, heartbreaking fashion. We're used to feeling embarrassed by our sports teams, and that feeling spills over into other areas, too: we're embarrassed by our sports teams, by the new name of the SkyDome, by our transit system, by our racist Prime Minster, by our crack-smoking mayor...
When the Jays lost the first two games at home, there was a familiar sinking feeling. And as they clawed their way back into the series over the next two games, hitting thrilling home runs in the distant heat of Texas, we were reluctant to get our hopes up again, a city full of Charlie Browns sick of trying to kick that football.
For most of Wednesday night, in the sudden death of Game Five, it seemed like we were right to be suspicious. For the first six-and-a-half innings, disaster loomed: the Jays quickly went down by two runs, fought their way back to tie the game with a mammoth home run from another lovable Dominican slugger — Edwin Encarnación, walker of the parrot, bringer of hat tricks — and then, almost immediately, there was that bizarre fluke throw by Canadian catcher Russell Martin, the ball clanking off Shin-Soo Choo's bat and sputtering down the line as the go-ahead run dashed home from third base. This was how we were going to end our season? This confusing mess of a run?
|The aftermath of the Martin-Choo play|
No one has ever seen anything like that seventh inning. Posnanski called it, "The craziest, silliest, weirdest, wildest, angriest, dumbest and funniest inning in the history of baseball... There has never been an inning like it." That thought has been echoed over and over again in the hours since it happened — not just by people in Toronto, but by baseball fans everywhere. On her CBS Sports Radio show, Amy Lawrence promised, "We will never forget what happened in that seventh inning." It was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable 53 minutes in the entire history of a sport that has kept records since before the American Civil War... since before Canadian Confederation... since before Toronto's first skyscraper was so much as a glint in an architect's eye... Talent and good luck conspired on an international stage in a way that no one has ever seen before. And it happened in Toronto. To Toronto.
Russell Martin tries to throw the ball back to the pitcher and it hits Choo's bat. The Rangers make three straight errors. José Bautista comes to the plate...
No current Blue Jay has been a Blue Jay as long as José Bautista has. No Blue Jay has waited longer for the team to make the playoffs. For years, Jays fans have worried that bad luck and the lack of talent around him would conspire to waste his years here. That he might be doomed to share the fate of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay: superstars who never played a playoff game with a blue bird on their chest, who will always be remembered fondly in Toronto, beloved, but never had a chance to write their name into the history of our city in one instant, with the indelible ink of a miracle in the postseason or during the final days of a pennant race. They never had the chance to do something extraordinary with our whole city watching, our whole country, our whole continent... the kind of moment that turns you into more than just a baseball player, that makes you, in some very small way, immortal.
We're a city coming to the realization that more than 200 years after Simcoe founded our muddy town, we actually have lived up to our original promise. And if we still doubt it, Bautista's home run gives us another chance to get the external validation we want so badly. For this moment at least, we can forget about them flying our flag upside-down and about whatever that moron Harold Reynolds thinks. Toronto, the scribes of NBC Sports remind us as they marvel at that miraculous inning, is "one of the world’s great cities."
Now, whatever happens, we'll always remember these Blue Jays. These Jays who feel in so many ways like a reflection of our own city. Of the Toronto of 2015. A cast of characters drawn together from all over the world. Truly multicultural. The young, social media savvy pitcher from Long Island. The rookie closer, the youngest player in baseball, who quit school as a kid to work in the fields of Mexico. The oldest player in baseball, who loves the members of his fan club so much that he goes to their weddings. The quiet Dominican slugger who bought an entire block of his poor, corrupt-sugar-company-run hometown so the residents can still keep living there. The nerdy veteran pitcher from Nashville who has battled depression and struggled with childhood sexual abuse, who mastered the mysterious art of the knuckleball when it seemed like his career was over. The Australian reliever. The Japanese goofball. The Italian-American who spent years playing in the independent leagues before finally getting his big break. The catcher from Montreal who gives press conferences in both official languages. The rookie from Mississauga who runs like the wind. The whiz-kid Canadian General Manager, who got his start with the Expos, who is usually reserved but who parties, gets drunk, and curses with his team on the night they clinch the pennant.
Even if the season ends next week, even if the Jays don't win another game, people in Toronto — people all over Canada — will remember Donaldson and Tulo and Price and Sanchez and Papa Buehrle and Pillar's crazy catches and the beaming smile of Ben Revere...
But most of all we'll remember José Bautista. And that bat flip. And the night it felt like Toronto really could live up to our spot on the big stage. Just like we did in 1993. And in '92. And in 1887.
Rob Ford was there, by the way, somewhere at the Dome as Bautista's home run soared into the seats. But we weren't embarrassed — we were too busy celebrating, we didn't even care.
You can my full, illustrated history of baseball in Toronto here. I've also written more about the tragic tale of Cannonball Crane here, the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club here, plus the greatest second baseman in Toronto (who isn't who you think it is) here, Babe Ruth's first home run here, and Joe Carter's World Series-winning dream here.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
The bases were loaded. It was the bottom of the eight. This was it: first place was on the line. Toronto and Newark headed into that Saturday afternoon battling for the lead in the International League — along with the team in Jersey City. With only a couple of weeks left in the 1887 season, every win was vitally important. And with only an inning left in their second game of the day, Toronto was losing to Newark by three runs.
On that Saturday afternoon in September, Crane had already done more than his fair share. Toronto and Newark were playing a double-header — two games at the Torontos' new stadium at Queen & Broadview, on a spot overlooking the Don Valley.
It was originally known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, but it would soon be nicknamed Sunlight Park in honour of the nearby Sunlight Soap Works factory. Spectators could walk in off Queen Street or ride up in their carriages and park their horses on the grounds. Admission was a quarter — plus an extra dime or two to sit in the best seats in the house. The sheltered grandstand had enough room for more than 2,000 people, and there was standing room for another 10,000 — a capacity not that much smaller than a Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre today. But the stadium had never seen attendance like this. Those two games against Newark drew a record-setting crowd.
In the first game, Crane pitched all nine innings, keeping the Newark hitters at bay while the Toronto bats smashed their way to victory. The final score was 15-5.
But there was still one more game left to win. And now the Torontos had already used up their ace. The scheduled pitcher for the second game was a fellow by the name of Baker — and as the first pitch drew near, he was out on the field, getting ready just as everyone expected.
|Sunlight Park (detail from an 1890s map)|
A reporter from the Globe was there: "As soon as it was made clear that Crane was to pitch the second game, hundreds leaped to their feet and cheered frantically, a mighty whirl of enthusiasm took everybody within its embrace and an astounding volume of sound shook the stands and swept down toward the city and out over the grounds like the march of a tornado."
Cannonball Crane was going to pitch two games in one day.
Still, even with Crane in the pitcher's box, the second game didn't get off to a good start. Toronto fell behind and stayed there. It wasn't until the eighth inning — behind by three runs — that they rallied to load the bases, bringing Cannonball to the plate with a chance to play the hero.
And that's exactly what he did. The slugger hit a double, clearing the bases. Three runs scored. The game was tied. It would head to extra innings.
Crane kept pitching. He held Newark scoreless in the tenth. And then again in the eleventh. He had now pitched 20 innings in one afternoon.
In the bottom of the eleventh, Crane came to the plate with a chance to play the hero yet again. He crushed a pitch high into the sun above the Don Valley: deep, deeeep, gone. A walk-off home run. Toronto had won both games. According to the Globe, as Crane rounded the bases "the mighty audience arose and cheered and stamped and whistled and smashed hats... the frantic fans dashed on to the field and carried Crane aloft as his foot touched home."
"CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."
The team had taken first place — and they would keep it for the rest of the season, winning every single game for the rest of the year. By the time it was all over, they'd won 16 in a row. Toronto had our first baseball championship.
But our hero wouldn't be back for the 1888 season. Instead, Crane signed with the New York Giants, helping them win the National League pennant and then the World's Series. He threw a no-hitter that year — and became one of the very first pitchers to ever wear a glove while fielding.
Sadly, that season was the beginning of the end. Things began to unravel for the pitcher almost as soon he left Toronto.
At the end of that first season with the Giants, Crane was invited to join Spalding's World Tour. The biggest stars in baseball signed up for a trip around the world, showcasing the sport to other countries. They played games in the shadow of the Sphinx, on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, outside the Villa Borghese in Rome... plus Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, France, Samoa, Yemen, Ceylon...
|Spalding's World Tour at the Villa Borghese|
And as Crane quickly discovered, he liked to drink. Far too much.
"Crane began drinking heavily from the moment he joined the tour in Colorado," according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). "By the time the men reached San Francisco, he had missed several games due to drunkenness and being hung-over." They hadn't even left the United States yet and Crane was already a mess.
He spent much of the tour serving as a sluggish umpire with a headache and heatstroke instead of actually playing in the games. At some stops, he never even got off the ship — choosing instead to get drunk on board with his tiny, trouble-making pet monkey, entertaining his fellow passengers by breaking into song. At one point, he even had a stand-off with soldiers at the French-Italian border when they insisted he pay an extra fare for his simian companion.
The Giants repeated as World's Series champions the very next year. And Crane was back in the pitcher's box, serving as their ace, winning five games in the Series. He would go on to have a solid Major League career, finishing up with a 3.99 ERA over eight seasons. But as he continued to drink, his weight ballooned and he lost his effectiveness as a pitcher. His final year in the Majors was a disaster: a 6.98 ERA over twelve games. He was released by the Giants twice, signed by Brooklyn and then released by them, too. Things were spiraling out of control.
People in Toronto still loved him, though. In 1895, he returned to play for our city. But he wasn't the same. After an uninspiring beginning to the season, he was released for what the Toronto Evening Star called "alleged sulkiness on the field." The team across the lake in Rochester then signed him and gave him another shot, but Crane didn't even show up for his first game.
He made his final appearance at Sunlight Park in the summer of 1896. He was playing for Springfield now. The Toronto fans gave him a warm welcome as he came out onto the field overlooking the Don Valley, but it was a bittersweet reunion. By then, Crane weighed nearly 300 pounds. His glory days were far behind him. He was no match for the Toronto bats. They crushed him.
Once, as the Globe remembered, Crane's name "inspired dread among all other players... But that is but a hazy memory. The once mighty name has lost its magic. It no longer inspires dread and fear... He essayed to pitch for Springfield against Toronto over the Don yesterday afternoon, and he made a sorry exhibition of himself... It would be painful to go into the details of the game." Soon, Springfield gave up on him too.
Finished as a player, Crane tried to find work as an umpire. But even that was a failure. "Crane," the Globe reported, "is said to be a way off in his judgment on balls and strikes." The newspapers blamed it on whisky. At 34 years old, he was unemployed and alcoholic, his wife and child had left him, he was depressed.
|Rochester in the 1890s|
Cannonball Crane wouldn't live to see the end of that 1896 season. On a Saturday in mid-September — almost nine years to the day since his glorious double-header in Toronto — he spent the afternoon getting drunk in his room at the Congress Hall hotel in Rochester. He hadn't paid his bill in ages. When he went downstairs, the owner warned him that if he didn't fork over the $70 he owed, he would be forced to give up his room. Crane promised to settle his bill. And then he headed back upstairs.
There was a bottle of chloral waiting for him.
The next morning, the maid couldn't open the door. A bellboy climbed up to peer through the transom. Crane was laid out on his bed. Dead. The official coroner's report described it as an accidental overdose. But everyone assumed it was suicide.
The next morning, he was remembered on the front page of the Toronto newspapers. His life had come to a tragic end, but thanks to those two games in the thick of a pennant race one Saturday afternoon in September, Cannonball Crane had written his name into the history of our city. He'd become an indelible part of Toronto sports lore, mentioned over and over again in our newspapers over the course of the next century — remembered fondly for bringing our city our very first baseball championship.
Next summer — in 2016, nearly 130 years since the Torontos won that pennant — a new plaque will be unveiled on the spot where Sunlight Park once stood. It will include a photo of Cannonball Crane, an ace at the height of his powers. The name of our city's first big baseball star will live in glory on Queen Street once again.
|This post is related to dream|
42 The Pennant
Ned "Cannonball" Crane, 1887
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The day Canada became a democracy, a mob of angry Tories burned the Parliament Buildings down. They were mad because the Governor General — Lord Elgin — had just signed a new bill into law. The Tories opposed the new law, but that wasn't the worst part: the worst part was that Elgin had plenty of his own reservations about it, but he still signed it anyway. He could have vetoed the bill, but he didn't. That was a huge, nation-changing decision: it signalled the end of the British veto over laws passed by the Canadian parliament. It was the beginning of Responsible Government. From now on, when it came to domestic politics, Canadians ruled themselves. Parliament held the ultimate power.The Tories and their supporters freaked out. To them, democracy was a dangerous thing: the stuff of blood-soaked rebellions, revolutions and guillotines. They'd spent decades opposing it. But the outrage wasn't only about the Tories' fear of democracy. It was also about fear-mongering and racism.
The bill was called the Rebellion Losses Bill. It paid compensation to people in Québec (called Canada East back then) who had suffered property damage during the rebellions in 1837. The previous Tory government had already done the same thing for the anglophone region of Ontario (Canada West), so it shouldn't have been controversial — but it was: the conservatives hated it.
To many Tory supporters, francophones weren't real Canadians. They couldn't be: they were Catholic; they spoke French. Real Canadians were British: they were Protestant; they spoke English. Anyone else couldn't possibly be a loyal subject. They were all automatically rebels.
The liberal Reform party had recently been elected in a landslide. But their government was an alliance between English- and French-speaking Canadians led by Robert Baldwin (a Protestant anglophone from Toronto) and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine (a Catholic francophone from Montreal). Conservatives didn't trust that alliance.
The Tories saw an opportunity. If they could stoke enough fear among their supporters — if they could threaten enough violence and unrest — they might be able to keep the Governor General from ever signing the bill. And by doing that, they might keep Responsible Government from ever becoming a reality in Canada.
John Ralston Saul writes about the Tory strategy in his biography of Baldwin and LaFontaine. He argues that the Tory leader, Allan MacNab, realized that "his party would have to create a crisis of loyalty. Loyalty in populist rhetoric is always about patriotism... In this case, loyalty would be about the Crown, Britain, the Anglo-Saxon race... [The Tories] believed they could undermine democratic sympathies by simply setting anglophones and francophones at each other's throats."
And so, during the debate over the bill, the Tories used lies, misleading half-truths and racially-coded language to build fear in their supporters. The Tory leader called francophone Canadians "foreigners." His party claimed the Reformers were "dangerous, criminal and subversive of order... under the dominion of French masters... You laugh to see the Anglo-Saxons under your feet." One up-and-coming young Tory — John A. Macdonald — got so worked up that he challenged a Reformer to a duel by passing him note in parliament during the debate.
|Elgin & two of the rocks thrown at his carriage|
Back in 1849, fear wasn't enough. The Rebellion Losses Bill was signed into law and Responsible Government was embraced by the vast majority. Canadians believed in democracy and diversity more than they believed in fear. On October 19, we'll find out if that's still true.
Main image: "L'incendie du Parlement à Montréal" ("The Burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal") by Joseph Légaré (via the Wikmedia Commons here).
Second image: Elgin's wife kept the rocks hurled at the carriage and carefully labelled them; they are now at the Canadian Museum History in Gatineau. Photo by me.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
The Blue Jays had won the World Series. For the first time in history, Major League Baseball's championship banner was flying north of the border. But winning again wasn't going to be easy. Many of the biggest stars of the 1992 championship team weren't going to be back with the Jays in 1993. Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key, David Cone, Tom Henke: they were all all free agents. None of them would end up returning to Toronto.
But Carter wasn't sure where he wanted to play in 1993. He loved Toronto, but he lived in Kansas City. Going home to play for the Kansas City Royals was a very tempting proposition. He was torn: he knew he wanted to play for one of those two teams, but he wasn't sure which one to pick.
That winter, Carter met with the owner of the Royals, Ewing Kauffman. Kauffman was an old man now, and his health was failing. He only had a few months left to live. He wanted his baseball team to win — and to do it before he died. So he offered the slugger more money than the Blue Jays were willing to pay, plus an extra year and all the other contractual clauses that Carter was asking for.
Years later, the Kansas City Star asked Carter how close he came to singing with the Royals. The slugger held his finger and his thumb about an inch apart. "Closer than this," he told them.
But that night, after his meeting with Kauffman, Joe Carter had a dream. He told Sportsnet about it as part of an oral history of the 1993 Blue Jays season.
"I was walking to the ballpark with Devon White," he remembered. "It was kind of dark and we came up on the stadium. When I looked up, the lights lit up and it said, 'Welcome to the SkyDome.'"
As Carter woke the following morning, the dream lingered in his mind. And then he looked outside: his backyard was full of birds. They were all blue jays. It was, he thought, a clear sign from God.
That was all he needed. "The next day I signed with the Blue Jays... That's how I came back."
And that's exactly what he did:
I first learned about Joe Carter's dream thanks to Sportsnet's oral history of the 1993 Blue Jays. And you can read the Kansas City Star article about the dream here.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
With the Syrian refugee crisis making headlines around the world and becoming a major issue in Canada's federal election campaign, I thought this might be a good time to share some thoughts on refugees and the history of Toronto. Our city, after all, was founded in the wake of the American War of Independence as the capital of a new province created very specifically to provide a home for Loyalist refugees from that war. So I wrote a Twitter essay — you'll find the Storify version embedded below.
Main image: Ireland Park by me.